THE Government has been urged to extend greater protection to refugees in Malaysia who face a high risk of exploitation.
UNHCR Malaysia spokesman Yante Ismail conceded that the agency was “challenged to its fullest capacity”, especially with the skyrocketing need for help from crisis-hit countries in the Middle East.
“When the state is unable or unwilling to take on the responsibility of providing protection and status verification for refugees, UNHCR undertakes that responsibility on behalf of the state but the reality is that UNHCR does not possess the capacity and resources of a state,” she said.
Refugees here do not have a legal status because Malaysia – even though it has taken up the role of a host country – is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, nor does it have a legal framework to protect refugees.
Still, there are measures that the Government can take to help refugees.
“The most practical and humanitarian solution to improve the overall condition for refugees is to provide them with opportunities for self-reliance, including allowing them to work legally in the country,” she said.
On claims that some parties are soliciting money from refugees, Yante said UNHCR did receive reports of various cases of exploitation, hence the dire need for better legal status for refugees.
She added that resettlement was a diminishing option for most refugees here.
“Resettlement is arranged for refugees with the highest level of vulnerability in their home country or a host country, based on the availability of places offered by third countries.
“However, it is not a right or an automatic solution for all refugees. In fact, it is an option available only to less than 1% of the total refugee population worldwide.
“The refugee situation cannot be resolved through resettlement alone, this is why we need to provide refugees with a more stable and secure conditions in host countries, including Malaysia,” she said.
She said since 2005, over 100,000 refugees had been resettled out of Malaysia to countries such as Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden, and the United States.
Asked how Malaysians could help, she said it was by extending the hand of friendship and solidarity with refugees.
She said the public could also make donations to assist programmes providing schooling and healthcare for refugees, or join volunteer programmes under UNHCR or other groups that help refugees in teaching and skills building, among others.
“Malaysians are a generous and compassionate people.
“We encounter so many groups and individuals in Malaysia who volunteer their time to help improve refugees’ lives in the country.”