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Recognise UNHCR role in Malaysia

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refugeesAliran is appalled that the Malaysian government has adopted a stand which is anti-human rights. This is clearly evident in the Home Affairs Minister’s statement that Malaysia does not recognise the powers of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The UNHCR was invited by the Malaysian government to deal with the refugee situation in our country ever since refugees from neighbouring countries kept coming to our shores seeking refuge from the political upheaval and persecution in their home countries. This inflow started way back in the 1970s with the Vietnamese refugees coming in startling numbers, braving the hazards of the sea.

Malaysia is seen as a safe-haven by those fleeing from oppression and the dangers in their countries to seek a better future for themselves and their children. As internal conflict is relatively absent here and with Malaysia’s economic policy, which encourages migration of labour from other Asean countries – including countries such as Burma and the Philippines, where internal conflict is on-going – our land has become a destination of choice for refugees and asylum-seekers.

In obstructing and ignoring the UNHCR, which is trying to help sort out the obviously chaotic situation, the Home Affairs Ministry and Immigration Department inevitably contribute further to the plight of unfortunate refugees and thus prevent a humane resolution to this problem.

Malaysia is a long-standing member of the United Nations, and a State party to the United Nations Charter. As a member of the newly constituted UN Human Rights Council, it is duty-bound to promote and uphold human rights, nationally and internationally. But in contradiction to the norms of accepted behaviour of an international member of this august community, the Malaysian Government evidently adopts an anti-human rights stance in relation to refugees and asylum-seekers.

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Aliran urges the Malaysian Government to recognise the important role of the UNHCR and the advantages of allowing the UNHCR to carry out its work according to its mandate – unobstructed and unhindered in any way.

It is undoubtedly an immense burden for tax-payers and the authorities to maintain the over-crowded immigration detention centres, which woefully lack proper facilities to cater for the ever-increasing number of migrant detainees.

Allowing the UNHCR to reduce the number of  immigration detainees by separating refugees and asylum seekers from the other categories of irregular migrants must be viewed as a positive move towards solving the problems at detention centres.

Moreover, the UNHCR already has a tried and tested monitoring system for refugees and asylum seekers. It is only to the government's advantage to fall back on this system to sort out the existing chaos. The UNHCR is well-placed to look after its own category of migrants and it can resettle them in other countries should Malaysia not accept them.

To allow refugees temporary settlement should not be seen as a problem as
they are a human resource readily available to alleviate any labour shortages in the country. After all, since they may be resettled in third countries, they will not be a long-term burden socially or economically during the interim period.

Aliran, therefore, urges the Home Affairs Minister and the Immigration authorities to recognise UNHCR documentation on the status of the immigrants in order to ease their own immigration problems. There should be no conflict between the work of the UNHCR and that of Immigration enforcement units, including Rela, since both are committed to the same objective of trying to resolve the problem of irregular migrants systematically and in a way that will benefit Malaysia.

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Malaysia must also take the bold step of ratifying the 1951 Refugees Convention. This will help to better organise and systematise our immigration policies – as the need to do so becomes increasingly essential – in view of the existing chaotic state of management of the vast number of undocumented and irregular migrants here.

Aliran Executive Committee.
9 February 2007

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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