PETALING JAYA: All refugees regardless of their country of origin should be accorded the opportunity to work in Malaysia, say human rights activists.
While welcoming the Government's decision to provide training in semi-skilled areas for Rohingya in country who are UNHCR cardholders, activists say there should not be discrimination against other refugees.
Tenaganita programme director Aegile Fernandez said when contacted that many of the refugees here had been in Malaysia for a long time and had no opportunity to be resettled.
"There is more attention on the Rohingya now because of the situation they are in but we shouldn't discriminate. Just extend it to all," she said, adding that such a support system was good in the long run for the refugees.
Fernandez added that the refugees could take back home the skills they learned if the situation permitted.
There is a spotlight on the Rohingya at the moment because of the situation in the Rakhine state in Myanmar where they are being persecuted.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was reported to have said on Thursday that the Government aims to provide training in semi-skilled areas for the Rohingya with UNHCR cards so that they can apply for Temporary Employment Passes (PLKS) which will then enable them to obtain employment.
Amnesty International Malaysia said that all refugees should be viewed as a growth sector in the country.
"This is certainly a step forward towards recognising the rights of refugees. We do hope, however, that all refugees, regardless of their country of origin, will be accorded the same opportunity," its director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu said.
She said that with Dr Ahmad Zahid's announcement, the Government seemed to be officially acknowledging the status of refugees in the country.
She also reiterated Amnesty's call for Malaysia to ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention immediately.
"The convention defines the term 'refugee', which is absent in Malaysian law, and outlines the rights of the displaced as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them.
"We ask that the Government demonstrate its commitment to aid the Rohingya and the wider refugee community in Malaysia by acceding to this international instrument," she said.
As of October of last year, there were some 150,669 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia.
More than 135,000 of them are from Myanmar, comprising 54,856 Rohingya, 41,420 Chins, 10,928 Myanmar Muslims, 5,221 Rakhines and Arakanese, and other ethnicities from Myanmar.
The balance 15,000 are from other countries, including Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.