Monday, November 7, 2011
Working for refugee rights
PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia will undertake a joint exercise for the first time with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to register refugees and asylum seekers to ensure better protection for them.
The move, expected to take off in January, involves some 94,800 refugees and asylum-seekers whose status is already confirmed by the UNHCR in Malaysia.
The inclusion of their biodata within a government database is expected to lead to greater protection for the refugees, said UNHCR representative Alan Vernon, particularly against arrest and detention as their identities could then be easily verified by law enforcement officials.
“This will also help prevent prosecution of persons holding UNHCR documents for immigration offences or deportation. It will also help address the problem of fraudulent UNHCR identification cards,” Vernon said in a statement yesterday.
The exercise will be carried out progressively in major cities where the refugees are located.
The effort involves the Home and Foreign ministries, the Immigration Department, the National Security Council and the UNHCR.
Data from the refugee agency shows that most of the refugees registered with the UNHCR here are from Myanmar, numbering 87,000 persons or about 90% of the total asylum-seeker population in the country.
Others who have sought refuge in Malaysia are Sri Lankans (4,200), Somalis (1,000), Iraqis (720) and Afghans (440).
The data, last updated in September, shows that some 71% of refugees and asylum-seekers are men. Children also make up a significant part of the refugee community, numbering 19,200.
However, a large number of asylum-seekers are believed to be unregistered.
Vernon said the exercise would be separate from the Home Ministry’s ongoing 6P programme involving illegal immigrants.
The six-step programme, which comprises registration, legalisation, amnesty, supervision, enforcement and deportation has seen – as of last week – a total of 25,561 illegal immigrants being granted amnesty and leaving the country.
“While Malaysia is not yet a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, UNHCR very much appreciates the cooperation we enjoy with the Malaysian Government and look forward to continuing discussions on how to strengthen refugee protection in Malaysia, including creating opportunities for legal work for refugees as well as enhanced access to education and health services,” Vernon added.
The issue came to surface recently after the Malaysia-Australia refugee swap deal was shelved last month.
The majority of lawmakers in Australia were against legislation that would have enabled Australia to send 800 new boat arrivals to Malaysia in return for Australia resettling 4,000 registered refugees from Kuala Lumpur.
Date: November 7, 2011
Source: The Star, Malaysia