Category: Blog

URBAN REFUGEES launched its first pilot program in Malaysia—and we are thrilled
to introduce you to our team in Kuala Lumpur :



SONIA BEN ALI, Co-founder and Executive Director

I co-founded URBAN REFUGEES in France in November 2012, and it was about three years ago that I first imagined this incubation project. It is amazing for me to now see the project unfolding. It is just beginning, but the results so far are beyond my expectations.  Every day, I am moved and inspired by how resourceful the urban refugees we work with really are, working to find solutions to their own challenges.

FANNY PRIGENT, Project Manager Urban Refugees Incubation Program (URIP)

I left my job eight months ago, to develop URBAN REFUGEES’ Incubation Program and launch the pilot program in Malaysia.
By equipping people with skills they dramatically need, I feel part of a meaningful change.
The refugees’ excitement, dedication, and commitment to the program’s success is a powerful and daily motivation. I have never questioned my decision to leave.


I have been working on internal and external communications (our organization’s newsletter, planning events, and coordinating communications with our followers) since July 2015.
I left my job and joined URBAN REFUGEES full-time because I wanted to do something meaningful every day. I knew that, alone, I couldn’t make a big change, so I joined the URBAN REFUGEES team to make this big change—and I think we are! When I look at URBAN REFUGEES, I see one big family all around the world and I’m so proud to be a part of it.

JUNED MOHAMMAD, Technology Operations at UR

I joined URBAN REFUGEES six months ago upon my arrival in Malaysia to work on the development and application of technology-based solutions.
I strongly believe in the empowerment of vulnerable populations through a long-term and structured approach in addition to the work done by NGOs to support those in need in the short term. URBAN REFUGEES is one of the rare organizations that uses this long-term approach.
What I appreciate most about URBAN REFUGEES is its diversity of its staff –whether it is cultural, social or professional — this human wealth is geared towards one single yet ambitious goal: raising the voice of the invisible.


I have been assisting Fanny in training and coming up with modules and creating slides since September 2016 .
After years of being involved in corporations, I got tired of the politics and took a few years of sabbatical. Later, I met URBAN REFUGEES when they were looking for a trainer, and I took the opportunity to work with an NGO. It was a new experience, a new challenge, and most important of all, it came with no corporate politics.
I like that everything is relaxed and everyone is genuinely nice. It is comforting that everyone is just trying their best at their job instead of trying to outdo each other.


I joined URBAN REFUGEES on the 1st of October 2016 to work on Administration, Logistics, and Financing.
I like the cause of URBAN REFUGEES, which I had only heard about from news or newspapers or magazines. This is my first experience working with a non-profit organisation and I found out it to be very challenging.  URBAN REFUGEES is a new working environment for me with staff from countries all over the world.  I enjoy working with them because they are kind, friendly, and committed to the work. I would like to commit to URBAN REFUGEES as long as I can serve this organisation.


I have been part of the team since the 10th of October 2016, working on Communication : I write articles for the website’s blog and Facebook, and I worked on a six-month communication plan for the Incubator Project.
I am very happy to be part of this beautiful project. The team is multicultural and everybody has so much energy and positivity ! I believe that this program will really help urban refugees and improve the way they are living.
Last sunday, I met the Afghan Community for the first time, and I am all the more convinced of the importance of this project because I have already seen the promising results after only a few weeks working with our staff.

NUR ASMA BINTI ZAKARIA, Admin & Documentation position.

I have been working on administration and documentation since the 17th October 2016.
I love to see how volunteers give their contribution, so when my friend told me that Fanny was looking for an administrator, I’ve applied for the job. I wanted to learn how an NGO organization works.
URBAN REFUGEES’ team is so wonderful. They are friendly,  willing to help, and lovely.
I hope the URBAN REFUGEES team will be successful in achieving their mission and the voice of the invisible can be heard.

VIDYA RAMKUMAR, Project Manager – SMS Up

I joined URBAN REFUGEES on the 17th October to work on the SMS Up Project : to enable group chat functionality (like WhatsApp/Viber) using SMS for the benefit of urban refugees without smartphones or internet on their handphones to chat within their community.
The URBAN REFUGEES team is very friendly, full of energy and enthusiasm, and everyone comes from various cultures. Working towards a philanthropic higher goal also brings out the best in us ! I’m very passionate about the project I’ve been allocated to, and excited to see how we can collaborate with refugees to help make SMS Up useful for them to share information more easily.



The URBAN REFUGEES team and leaders of the Afghan Community Center (ACC) recently completed the first phase of the pilot program in Kuala Lumpur. This initial phase —« needs analysis »— allowed us all to determine the most pressing needs of the Afghan refugee community, and the most effective ways to support the ACC. The URBAN REFUGEES team also created a training schedule for our collaboration.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the trainings selected by the leaders : communication, management of partnerships, financial management and accounting, project management, and website creation, among others.

The URBAN REFUGEES team and leaders of the Afghan Community Center (ACC)

The URBAN REFUGEES team and leaders of the Afghan Community Center (ACC)

Since the completion of this initial phase, workshops have begun and have been progressing smoothly for a few weeks now. The ACC’s leaders are very involved and engaged. The training participation rate is extremely high and concrete results are already emerging : for example, the ACC is now equipped with accounting procedures, a new strategic partnership has been created with a local NGO, and two proposals to UNHCR for new activities have been drafted.

The URBAN REFUGEES team is pleased to have partnered with the ACC for its first pilot project, and is proud to see promising results already.

More progress is still to come!

Malaysian flagAccording to the latest UNHCR statistics, Malaysia hosts over 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers. Most of them (90%) are from Myanmar, and the others are from diverse countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia , Pakistan or Sri Lanka.

Like many other States in the world, Malaysia has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, nor the 1967 Protocol.

Refugees are thus considered illegal migrants: they have no access to the education or the health system and do not have the right to work.

The 700+ Afghan refugees in Malaysia are no exception. Without access to the labor market, nor to healthcare and education, they live in precarious conditions in cities, especially the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.

Afghan refugees in Malaysia have organized a support group called the Afghan Community Center (ACC)—a modest, refugee-led organization working to serve the urgent needs of the Afghan refugee community. But the community is large and growing, and the ACC faces many challenges.

We decided to set up our very first pilot program in Malaysia to answer the needs of this important urban refugee population. Our idea: backing their support groups, such as the Afghan Community Centre, so that they can increase the quantity and quality of services to their community.

shoes-1260718_960_720Behind this wonderful initiative stand two friends, Lucile and Colleen, who decided to organise a walk on the 24th of September 2016 to show their support for an association. After researching and thinking for a while, they chose our association URBAN REFUGEES !

The big day has come ! For 7 hours, the 2 friends have walked 30km (about 19 miles) throughout London to support the cause of urban refugees, thus collecting the tidy sum of 550$ (as well as a few aches and blisters on the way !)
With the help of their relatives, who shared the link to the fundraising on social networks, they achieved to reach over their initial goal of 500$.

Thank you again for your support, Lucile and Colleen. Thanks to you URBAN REFUGEES has gained profile and has collected donations.
And BRAVO ! It was a great performance !

The fundraising page is still activated, you can still donate to support us :

Opportunities were once scarce for the Afghan Community Center (ACC), which serves the Afghan refugee community in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  But through their recent partnership with URBAN REFUGEES, that is beginning to change.


Jessica Leber, staff editor and writer for Fast Company—a print and online magazine focusing on innovation and creative thought leaders who are shaping the future of business—interviewed Mahdi, one of the ACC’s founders and leaders.

The ACC was created and managed by Afghan refugees themselves to support fellow refugees in their own community, and this interview with Jennifer is a powerful opportunity for the group to amplify the visibility of refugees like themselves, largely forgotten within the humanitarian system. Mohammad Mahdi, or simply “Mahdi” as he is known among colleagues, explained described the difficult living conditions for Afghan refugees, and how the support of URBAN REFUGEES is changing their daily life for the better.  He also shared his own story, and how the trials of his life led him his role in the ACC.

Mahdi left Afghanistan with his family as a young boy, when remaining at home became unsafe. He lived in Iran as refugee for 20 years before deciding to immigrate to Malaysia, where he hoped to build a better life and experience less discrimination because of his refugee status. “In Kuala Lumpur, conditions are not ideal but not bad,” he said. “We are thankful to the Malaysian government because we live safely.”

Members of Malaysia’s own Afghan refugee community founded the ACC to make a meaningful difference for those who face these daily challenges. Mahdi remembered the creation of ACC in 2014. Before the group came together, the community had no place for meeting, organizing, and supporting one another.

But today, the ACC itself faces many challenges.  The most daunting obstacle is funding their budget.  “We are not professional in management, advertising,” said Mahdi.  Adding that it was for this reason—a lack of formal management training—that  URBAN REFUGEES is on the ground providing mentorship to the ACC.  “They give us the key of management, improve our abilities and helps us to propose more services,” he said.

These courses include offerings such as English courses, sports courses, health screening, information dissemination, and more for the community.  Language courses are of utmost importance.  “The first need is learning English because we need it daily to find a job, to get a house,” says Mahdi. The organization also struggles with staff and funding: “All of members are volunteers,” he said. “We have only one support is Nahel a Malay business man.”

Sonia Ben Ali, co-founder and executive director of URBAN REFUGEES explained to Jennifer that this collaboration with the ACC “is the first pilot of the organization which more than 50 refugee-led organizations applied for.”  These other refugee-led CBOs (community-based organizations) are on waiting list now, and URBAN REFUGEES hopes to provide additional support for these organizations and others after the completion of the pilot and as their own capacity grows.  “Refugee  organizations such as the Afghan Community Center play a fundamental role in the support system and should be recognized as much more credible actors,” added Sonia.   URBAN REFUGEES also participates in advocacy to promote sustainable solutions to the refugee crisis.

“We are delighted that the program is beginning to bear fruit, that the urban refugees are beginning to have a real attention and we are very grateful to our donors to support us and to make this possible,” said Sonia.  As the interview with Jennifer came to a close, Mahdi reinforced ACC’s primary goal: to create a system that would be self-sustaining, allowing refugees in the future to find their way without support from groups like his.

The final Fast Company article is here; it is part of a larger series on creating a refugee-friendly world, which you can check out here.

Since 2014, the Afghan Community Center (ACC) in Malaysia has served a critical need for the community by connecting people with affordable and safe housing, access to education and job opportunities, and, perhaps most importantly, fostering a sense of cultural unity and social support.

URBAN REFUGEES is working with the ACC leaders to strengthen the capacity of the Afghan refugee community in Malaysia to protect, help and advocate for their own community. You can meet the amazing ACC team below :

Mohammad MahdiMohammad Mahdi

Mohammad Mahdi was an active member of the Afghan refugee community in Iran before moving to Malaysia and joining the ACC leadership. The promotion of peace is Mohammad’s first goal for the organization, and he is working with URBAN REFUGEES so that the ACC can become “the links, the main hub, the focal point for support and information for Afghan refugees in Kuala Lumpur.”

Haji Mohammad Ali SharifiHaji Mohammad Ali Sharifi

Mr Haji is the senior leader at ACC. He is in charge of managing social issues within the community. Mr Haji used to be a chef in Kaboul. He understands all the importance of leading a community and enabling each member of the team to thrive. ‘We need to create a sense of community’, he says, for the Afghan refugees to thrive in Malaysia.

Khadija HossainiKhadija Hossaini

Children can be afraid of going to the dentist; however, Khadija Hosseini, a former dentist’s assistant, understands how to transform fear into action. Teaching English and art to women and youth in the community, Khadija hopes to “improve the next generation.” Working with URBAN REFUGEES, and with women in particular, has been especially significant for Khadija, giving her “the energy to continue.”

Nematullah AhmadiNematullah Ahmadi

After having served previously as a community leader in Malaysia, the Afghan community elected Nematullah Ahmadi in an effort to reinvigorate the ACC. “We have so many talents in our community,” Nematullah explains, “but no way to express them.” Working with URBAN REFUGEES, Nematullah is learning how the ACC can more effectively amplify the voices of community members.

Ali Akbar AhmadiAli Akbar Ahmadi

With a black belt rank in Taekwondo, Ali Akbar Ahmadi understands the importance of concentration and determination. After living in Malaysia for two years, he decided to give back by teaching taekwondo classes to young children in the community. “Afghan refugees need to be able to solve daily problems such as finding jobs” and accessing public information and facilities such as hospitals, Ali Akbar explains. Through Taekwondo, children in the community are learning the value of persistence.

Mohammad ZakaryaMohammad Zakarya

For Mohammad Zakarya, building and maintaining a community is all about mutual respect and cooperation. “ACC is a group of people that is not related to any political group, individual, religion, or special ethnicity,” he explains. Instead, Mohammad is proud that the Afghan refugee community in Malaysia is more concerned with helping one another succeed and thrive.

Nasrullah SharifiNasrullah Sharifi

Nasrullah Sharifi is deeply connected to the Afghan refugee community, Afghani culture and heritage. Building on his experience working with local government officials to mediate local conflicts, Nasrullah is eager to enhance his project management skills. “We need those [capacity-building] trainings,” he says, in order to truly meet the diverse and complex needs of community members.

Our team is committed to help the Afghan urban refugee population in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, by training this amazing refugee leaders team so that they can improve their impact towards their community.

If you wish to support us, here is the way!

After fleeing years of violence and persecution, Afghan refugees are planting “seeds of peace,” and rebuilding their lives in Malaysia with the support of the Afghan Community Center (ACC).

Created in 2014, the ACC is led by eight community leaders and has grown to include over 140 families. Led by an elected Board of Directors, the ACC aims to foster lasting, positive change for the Afghan community in Malaysia by connecting people with affordable and safe housing, access to education and job opportunities, and, perhaps most importantly, fostering a sense of cultural unity and social support.

ACC leaders are focused on strengthening the capacity of the Afghan refugee community in Malaysia to protect, help and advocate for their own community.

Malaysia, like most other Southeast Asian countries, is not party to the UN Refugee Convention, which denies refugees official status in the country. Community-based organizations, including the ACC, play an integral role in providing security, a sense of community, and social services for refugees living in an unfamiliar land.

Despite these efforts, the Afghan community in Malaysia remains highly vulnerable and the ACC faces serious funding and capacity constraints.

The refugee journey is perilous, and the lives they make for themselves fragile. The ACC, and other community-based organizations serving refugees around the world, provide a foundation for refugees to be active agents in meeting their needs and aspirations.

If you are interested in learning more about the Afghan Community Center (ACC) in Malaysia, please contact URBAN REFUGEES at: contact[@]

As seen in :

They support us :