KUALA LUMPUR, June 22 — Refugees, immigrants, people without legal identity, the homeless, and street children in Malaysia were at risk of being denied their rights to food or education, a global human rights tracker said.

Independent non-profit group Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) carried out a survey on human rights experts, who repeatedly identified such groups as more likely to be deprived of five economic and social rights in Malaysia in 2022: the right to food, education, health, housing, and work.

Commenting on who in Malaysia were particularly unlikely to enjoy their right to food, survey respondents told HRMI that this would include people with lower economic status as they struggle with food availability due to finances, people in poor urban communities around large cities such as Kuala Lumpur, and those in rural areas especially in Kedah and Kelantan.

The others identified by the experts as potentially losing out on food included people without legal documentation who will have less access to food (due to denial of right to work and to receive benefits), and indigenous people who experience decreased access to food due to development on the land which they rely on for their food and livelihood.

For the right to food, 83 per cent of experts identified the homeless as being at risk, while the rest include groups such as people with low economic or social status (83 per cent), street children or homeless youth (83 per cent), migrants or immigrants (75 per cent), refugees or asylum seekers (75 per cent), indigenous people (67 per cent), people without a legal identity (67 per cent).

While HRMI did not state the definition for people without a legal identity, those who are stateless (or people who are not a citizen of any country in the world) often lack legal identity documentation.

Based on past news reports, those who find themselves stateless in Malaysia — when the government does not recognise them as Malaysians — include those born in Malaysia but were abandoned at birth, those who were born in Malaysia and adopted by Malaysians, and those who were born to Malaysian fathers before their marriage to non-Malaysians were registered.

Why do people in Malaysia face barriers to education?

As for the right to education, human rights experts told HRMI that the lack of legal recognition of refugees results in their limited access to education, while indigenous communities face barriers mainly due to socioeconomic and infrastructure issues with high dropout rates at secondary schools.

HRMI also said the survey respondents stated that those living in rural areas in Malaysia have lower access to education due to geographical constraints, and that many — especially those in rural areas and from lower economic backgrounds — had challenges accessing education amid the Covid-19 pandemic due to limited internet coverage and technology costs.

Asked by HRMI for context on who would be unlikely to enjoy their right to education in 2022, survey respondents claimed that “Bumiputera majority quotas in public higher education discriminate against non-Bumiputera” and that there was a lack of “cultural and historical representation” in the national curriculum.

For the right to education, the groups with the biggest percentage of experts identifying them as being at risk were refugees or asylum seekers (100 per cent); migrants or immigrants and people without a legal identity (at 92 per cent each); those who are homeless, or with low social or economic status, or homeless youth or street children (all at 75 per cent each), and indigenous people (67 per cent), while 18 other groups with varying percentages were also listed.

Right to health

In HRMI’s 2022 survey, experts said refugees with their unrecognised legal status are unable to access public healthcare, while fear of police action and private healthcare being unaffordable also become barriers to seeking healthcare. The experts said those located in Sabah have a harder time accessing healthcare.

Groups identified in the survey as at risk of having their right to health violated include refugees or asylum seekers (100 per cent), migrants/immigrants as well as those without a legal identity (83 per cent each), indigenous people (75 per cent), street children or homeless youth (67 per cent), LGBTQIA+ people (58 per cent), those who are homeless (50 per cent), those with low social or economic status (50 per cent), and sex workers (42 per cent).

Right to work

In the same HRMI survey, human rights experts highlighted refugees as being denied the right to work as their legal status is unrecognised in Malaysia, while claims were made of “systemic” racial discrimination in the workplace.

Topping the list of those most at risk of having their right to work violated were refugees or asylum seekers (identified by 92 per cent of experts surveyed), migrants/immigrants (83 per cent), those without a legal identity (75 per cent), while the list also included people who are homeless (50 per cent) or street children/homeless youth (also 50 per cent), people with disabilities (50 per cent), indigenous people or people of particular races (42 per cent each), people with low social or economic status (42 per cent), LGBTQIA+ people, people of particular ethnicities, people with less education, sex workers (all four groups at 33 per cent each).

Right to housing

From the HMRI survey, human rights experts listed those who are particularly unlikely to enjoy their right to housing in 2022 as including refugees who do not have the right to work and those with lower economic status as they cannot afford housing.

The experts also highlighted that those who face the risk of being displaced from their homes include those living in certain states (such as Sabah, Sarawak, Johor, and Kelantan) due to floods, and indigenous communities due to land grabs and developments by the government.

Based on the survey, respondents also said legal policies allocating usually discounted housing or land for the Bumiputera discriminate against those who are not Bumiputera, and that Malaysians of Indian ethnicity face high levels of racism when renting as landlords outline specific preferences for the tenants’ race, and that alleged discriminatory lending policies make it harder for those who are ethnic minorities to buy a house.

For the right to housing, those identified as being at risk of having this right violated in Malaysia include migrants/immigrants (identified by 83 per cent of the experts surveyed), homeless or refugees/asylum seekers (75 per cent each), those with low social or economic status (67 per cent), those without a legal identity or homeless youth/street children (58 per cent each), and indigenous people (42 per cent).

The full data from HRMI’s Rights Tracker 2023 survey can be seen on the website rightstracker.org.