On World Refugee Day tomorrow, the Malaysian Bar reiterates its call on the government to defend and respect the rights and dignity of all refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.
Malaysia hosts a large population of refugees and asylum seekers. There are 179,570 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia.
Refugees and asylum seekers face persecution and are forced to flee to foreign countries to seek refuge from violence in their country of origin. It is disheartening that the Malaysian government still does not expressly recognize the concept of refugees or asylum seekers.
Raids on migrant communities that are believed to be aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia are not only unwelcome, but can also potentially create a situation that accelerates the transmission of the virus. Refugees and asylum seekers often have to operate under the radar of law enforcement authorities, making them vulnerable to arrest, detention and deportation. These people are forced to fend for themselves and their families without legal protection, exposing them to exploitation. Their precarious situation has become even more apparent during this pandemic which has turned everyone’s life upside down.
Many refugees and asylum seekers have not yet been vaccinated, putting them at increased risk of contracting the virus due to their overcrowded living conditions – it then becomes a threat to the entire community, obviously.
To help the government better protect refugees and asylum seekers, the Malaysian Bar has engaged with UNHCR to seek holistic and comprehensive solutions. We understand that UNHCR is ready to continue supporting the government’s response to Covid-19, including the implementation of the Covid-19 vaccination program. It is also ready to help reach out to refugee and asylum-seeking communities, including through relevant communication efforts and community engagement, which is in line with the Ministry of Health’s communication plan on vaccine preparation.
Here is an example of support provided by UNHCR: At the request of the government, UNHCR provided assistance in translating vaccine information posters and audio files into 11 languages commonly spoken by refugees. UNHCR is also working with its NGO partners on community engagement and mobilization to support the efforts of the Ministry of Health.
The Malaysian Bar reiterates its call on the government to ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, both of which are international law instruments that recognize the rights of refugees and refugee claimants. ‘asylum. We also urge the government to act with compassion and humanity towards these vulnerable communities by putting in place an appropriate legal and administrative framework to properly manage refugees and asylum seekers.
Refugees and asylum seekers are also people and deserve to be granted dignity, kindness and respect.
President, Malaysian Bar