Thursday, April 21, 2011

Malaysia now a better place for refugees

Free Malaysia Today

Refugees International says there were no deportation attempts last year and there was more respect for UNHCR identity cards.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has made some improvements in its treatment of refugees, according to a report by the Washington based Refugees International (RI).

The report, which has a specific focus on Burmese refugees, said Malaysian authorities in the past year made no attempt to deport refugees and showed that they had increased their respect for identity cards issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

It noted that since 2009, the number of registered refugees in Malaysia had increased from 45,000 to more than 80,000.

About 90% of them are from Burma, where ethnic minorities like the Chin, Rohingya and Karen are said to be subject to systematic human abuses.

“There have been no reported attempts to deport Burmese refugees to the border with Thailand and a decrease in immigration raids and arrests of registered refugees,” RI said.

However, it added that these improvement had yet to be codified into policies and called on the government to “build on the progress” by setting up a system of residence and work permits, a suggestion which has been frequently repeated by local refugee advocacy groups.

The four-page report, released early this week, is entitled “Malaysia: Invest in Solutions for Refugees”. It said the refugees, as a ready work force, could replace some of the two million migrant workers in the country.
At present, refugees who hold the UNHCR card are permitted to reside temporarily in Malaysia but are not allowed to work.

The report also urged the government to allow refugees access to public schools and health facitilies and support projects that address the needs of women refugees.

Malaysia has been notorious for its treatment of refugees. It has been reported, for example, that the Rela volunteer corps have mistaken refugees as illegal immigrants and imprisoned them even though they held UNHCR cards. Some reports have spoken of Rela officials tearing up the cards.

Malaysia has not signed the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which sets out a framework for the protection of refugees.

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