The percentage of refugee children in Malaysia has been growing in recent years with a rise of more than 9000 in less than 3 years. More than 51,000 of the 164,620 documented refugees in 2019 are below the age of 18 years. Refugee children are often marginalized in society making them vulnerable and requiring special assistance in meeting their educational needs, mental health care and socio-emotional wellbeing. The purpose of this study was to discover the perceptions of refugee children regarding family life and their emotional and coping mechanisms. Employing the Collage Life-Story Elicitation Technique (CLET) and a discovery-oriented narrative approach, 25 refugee children at a non-governmental educational center in Kuala Lumpur were interviewed. The findings from an in-depth thematic analysis revealed that these refugee children perceived their families as having gone through separation and disruption resulting in isolation, loneliness and being powerless in the host country. Their coping mechanisms included help offered by enabling adults, teachers seen as angels and other wise people from the community who were their sources of strength. They strived for a better future through being brave and independent. We also discuss the need for more humanitarian programs and support for this group of vulnerable children in Malaysia.


refugee children, collage life-story elicitation technique (CLET), narrative approach, self-striving

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Jin Kuan Kok is a Malaysian who obtained her BA in Chinese Literature from the National Taiwan University, and her Master in Education (Guidance and Counselling) as well as her Doctorate degree in Education from Durham University, England, UK. At present, retired as an Associate Professor from the Department of Psychology and Counselling, Faculty of Arts and Social Science at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), Malaysia. Her research interests include teenage suicide, depression recovery, refugee studies and narrative inquiry. Email: jinkuank@gmail.com

Ts. Dr. Kheng Kia Khor is an Assistant Professor cum Deputy Dean (Academic Development & Undergraduate Programme) of Faculty of Arts and Social Science, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia. As a panel assessor of Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA), he has more than a decade of academic experience in teaching as well as developing higher educational programmes and training materials. His areas of expertise include computer graphics, digital animation, advertising, and Malaysian refugee study.

Dr. Kai Yee Hon is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Psychology and Education, Universiti Malaysia Sabah. She is teaching child rearing practices in multicultural settings and physical and cognitive evaluation of children. Her research interests are developmental psychology (children), cyberpsychology and social psychology. She is actively engaged in research activities and hold several research projects as project leader.

Gertina J. van Schalkwyk, DPhil (Psychology), retired as Associate Professor from the Department of Psychology at the University of Macau. She formerly served as External Examiner for the Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Malaysia) and as Editor-in-Chief for the International Journal of School & Educational Psychology. She is the principal investigator and developer of the Collage Life-story Elicitation Technique (CLET), and her research interests concern family studies, narrative inquiry, and school-based child and family counselling. Email: gjvsumac@gmail.com

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