JUNE 22 — Since Malaysia has voted in a new government, civil society groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have come together to lobby on different issues related to the situation of refugees in the country.
We would like to add our voice to these efforts.
The Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI) has a long track record in providing support for displaced people, with a focus on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon since the 1980s. Since 2004, MSRI has been running refugee support programmes in Malaysia for the growing numbers of refugees from 17 countries including Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.
To date, there are about 1,900 refugee families – approximately 5,000 persons – registered with MSRI.
MSRI supports these communities by providing various forms of assistance with their stay in Malaysia, until they are resettled in third countries or can return to their country of origin. They include a refugee school, adult education classes, a health programme, livelihood and emergency support. Our goal is to enable refugees to stand on their own feet.
MSRI urges the government of Malaysia to do more to alleviate the refugee crisis. A refugee is NOT an “illegal,” undocumented immigrant. Refugee status is only given to asylum seekers after a very stringent verification process according to international law.
We fully support the call for the government to ratify the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. In the absence of Malaysia signing this, the Government has allowed United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to carry out this task.
Until then, Palestinians and other UNHCR-recognised refugees from different countries have been languishing in immigration detention. It is inhumane to lock up refugees, including children, in immigration detention centres just because they have no country to go home to safely.
MSRI also believes that Malaysia should take a more active role in solving some of the international political crisis as they are a factor in creating refugees, such as Myanmar and Palestine, as stated in Pakatan Harapan’s Buku Harapan.
However, this engagement in the regional and international political arena should be disentangled from the issue of refugees who have sought safety in Malaysia.
Until new policies in favour of refugees are implemented, they still have to survive here without security for their families, access to legal work, education, and affordable healthcare.
All refugees who are already here should be given the right to work legally with an IMM13 permit, as has been done for refugees from south Thailand, Aceh, and Bosnia. This was recently implement for refugees from Syria, including Syrian Palestinians, through the Mahar programme.
By giving all refugees the right to work, this would enable them to not only take care of themselves, but to contribute to the Malaysian economy.
A good education is absolutely vital. Currently, about 40 per cent of all refugee children in Malaysia attend school as it is very difficult for these children to gain entry into most educational institutions. Refugee children have the right to learn and become useful members of society wherever they are. Malaysia should not hinder any child from becoming the best he or she can.
To this end, we urge the government to sign the 1951 Refugee Convention, to give work rights to refugees, improve access to affordable healthcare, and to make sure that all children in Malaysia, regardless of their immigration status, can get an education to ensure a brighter future for all.
* Datuk Mohammed Ab Halim is chairman of MSRI
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.