UNHCR: Allow refugees to work in plantation sector

KUALA LUMPUR: Refugees should be given opportunities to work in plantations or other sectors where there are vacancies not filled up by Malaysians, says the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Its deputy representative (protection) Maja Lazic said the government could allow such a move as it would open up more job opportunities for refugees.

“They could fill in the need so that it is a win-win situation. No one has his or her job taken away,” she told a press conference after the signing ceremony of the agreement on refugees and asylum seekers’ legal aid scheme between the Malaysian Bar and UNHCR Malaysia yesterday.

On June 29, Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran said the government might take in African workers to fill gaps in the plantation sector but the suggestion was dropped following criticisms.

While refugees could be offered jobs in the plantation sector, Lazic said they have a different profile than labour migrants.

“Refugees often have families so they may not be able to leave behind their wife, children or elderly to work in a plantation.

“Besides, not all plantations provide family lodging or give access to education or healthcare,” she added.

Currently, refugees are not allowed to work but the Home Ministry has a pilot project, in collaboration with UNHCR, recruiting 100 Rohingya to work in the manufacturing sector.

There is also a government project with the Malaysian Humani­tarian Aid and Relief to give a group of Syrian refugees opportunities to work.

Malaysian Bar president Datuk Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor said they were planning to meet Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to discuss the perennial issue of those held and put in detention centres despite their refugee status.

“We are waiting for a reply from the Home Minister,” he said.

On this issue, Lazic said the authorities should recognise the status of refugees, who hold a refugee card that has a QR code.

“But if a refugee is holding a letter, which states that his status is under consideration, or a different type of document, that is a bit difficult.

“The authorities can contact us to do a verification but sometimes, that does not happen,” she said.

For this reason, UNHCR had visited the 11 detention centres nationwide to get genuine refugees to be released.

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