Malaysia will not sign UN convention on refugees, says minister

Shahidan told Parliament that Malaysia has been lenient all this while by allowing refugees to eke out a living, but claimed that the situation has gone out of hand. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Shahidan told Parliament that Malaysia has been lenient all this while by allowing refugees to eke out a living, but claimed that the situation has gone out of hand. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 — Malaysia does not intend to become a signatory to a United Nations convention on refugees and migrant rights as the country has its hands full dealing with “problems” brought by refugees here, a minister said today.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim told Parliament that Malaysia has been lenient all this while by allowing refugees to eke out a living, but claimed that the situation has gone out of hand.

“Too many problems brought by them (refugees) in Cameron Highlands and Perlis especially because of their rough attitude,” Shahidan said during question time in response to a supplementary question by Dr Mansor Abdul Rahman (BN-Sik).

“On humanitarian grounds, we let them run businesses in pasar malams (night markets), but they are giving problems to locals and we now cannot handle this type of people as our local businesses are also feeling threatened by them.

“Now the most popular restaurant is Thai restaurants,” he added.

Owing to the situation, Shahidan said Putrajaya will not sign the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967).

Shahidan said that he has also asked the UN if the organisation intends to stop giving out refugee identification cards.

“Now they are no longer refugees but economic migrants,” he added.

To another supplementary question earlier by Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud (PAS-Kota Raja), who had asked if the government would consider signing the two conventions which would allow migrants and refugees to find jobs, Shahidan said the government’s bigger concern is to address the growing number of unemployed locals.

“In my view, the bigger issue that has to be addressed is how to give jobs to locals who are jobless. Let outsiders be dealt with accordingly.”

He added that Malaysia does not intend to become a signatory to the said conventions as the government would be unable to execute its necessary duty pertaining to refugee issues.

“If we become a signatory, the implication is that we will encourage more foreign workers to come in as refugees and asylum seekers and this will increase the number of illegal immigrants, foreign labourers and refugees.

“Malaysia will also become a transit for refugees because of our strategic geographical position,” he said, adding that this will also give rise to socio-economic problems.

Shahidan said that at present, there are 151,838 refugees and asylum seekers in the country.

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