KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 26 — Malaysia’s representative to the United Nations (UN) Universal Periodic Review (UPR) last night defended the country’s inhospitality to refugees, after over 15 states pressed it to do more to protect the vulnerable migrant group.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry deputy secretary-general (multilateral affairs) Datuk Bala Chandran Tharman also said the country was struggling to accept more refugees and asylum seekers as these groups were weighing on its resources and health infrastructure at a time Malaysia was dealing high national debt.

“Who is the deserving refugee? Who is a deserving asylum seeker? Who is an economic migrant? Who is to determine them as such?” he asked the recommending states at the UPR review conducted in Geneva, Switzerland, yesterday.

He said Malaysia already has the most refugees in Southeast Asia, and called for the UNHCR, International Organisation of Migration and member states to expedite the resettlement of such migrants to third countries.


Malaysia is not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention and consequently does not accord refugees and asylum seekers a different status from other undocumented migrants.

As of 2023, there were 133,821 refugees and 46,937 asylum seekers registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Malaysia.

During the three-and-a-half-hour session, more than 10 recommendations were also made for Malaysia to protect the rights of indigenous people including their land and culture.


Malaysia’s representative replied that the federal government and state authorities were collaborating to gazette the aboriginal areas and reserve according to the Federal Constitution, Aboriginal People’s Act 1954 and the National Land Code, although no timeline was given.

“In relation to the comments on the land development projects that affect the aboriginal communities, the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 allows any party to register their objection and their representation to a land development proposal” the delegate from the Rural and Regional Development Ministry said.

The other common recommendations by member states were for Malaysia to repeal laws that curb freedom of speech, assembly, and association, to implement gender equality in citizenship laws for children born to foreign parents, and to protect the disabled and elderly.

The recurring recommendations from the 2018 UPR cycle suggested yesterday were on banning female genital mutilation, setting the minimum marriage age to 18, and ensuring rights for migrant workers and refugees.

The three country representatives serving as rapporteurs (troika) for the review of Malaysia are Argentina, Eritrea and Vietnam.