KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 8 — The government, through the Foreign Ministry, is identifying other countries that are willing to receive refugees, especially the Rohingya, who have been staying in Malaysia, the Dewan Negara was told today.
Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Special Functions) Datin Mastura Mohd Yazid said, however, the humanitarian policy must be considered at all times although Malaysia was not a member of the 1951 Refugee Convention under the United Nations.
“What is important is their safety and lives are not threatened.
“We must also update our laws so that if we proceed to ratify the convention, it would put the rights of our citizens first, compared to the rights of the refugees,” she said in reply to a supplementary question from Senator Datuk A. Kesavadas on the government’s efforts to negotiate with Myanmar or any other third country to resettle the refugees.
Mastura added that the government policy also did not allow any refugee to stay in the country for a long time as Malaysia has yet to ratify the convention at the international level.
“If they can be relocated to a third country or their home country, and if it will not jeopardise their safety, we will resettle them,” she said in response to a supplementary question from Senator Dr Yaakob Sapari on the future of the refugees' second and third generations if they refused to return to their country of origin, and whether the government will offer them citizenship.
Earlier, when replying to Yaakob’s original question on the number of refugees in the country, Mastura said based on statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 177,921 foreigners had entered Malaysia and were given international protection by the commission as of July 31, comprising 128,185 refugees and 49,736 asylum seekers.
On the welfare aspect, she said the government has in principle stipulated that refugees who are UNHCR cardholders such as the Rohingya are eligible to get treatment in government hospitals and clinics at a 50 per cent discount from the price imposed on expatriates.
“The government had also carried out various initiatives to assist this group including by getting assistance from the Qatar government through the Qatar Fund for Development on issues relating to health, basic education and skills training,” she said. — Bernama