IN conjunction with World Refugee Day tomorrow, the Malaysian Bar reiterates its call on the government to uphold and respect the rights and dignity of all refugees and asylum-seekers in Malaysia.
Malaysia hosts a significant population of refugees and asylum- seekers. There are 179,570 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with the United Nations High Commis-sioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia.
Refugees and asylum-seekers are victims of persecution who are compelled to flee to foreign lands to seek refuge from violence in their homelands. It is disheartening to see that the Malaysian government still does not expressly recognise the concept of refugees or asylum-seekers.
Raids conducted on migrant communities reportedly to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia are not only undesirable but may also potentially create a situation that accelerates the transmission of the virus. Refugees and asylum- seekers often have to operate under the radar of enforcement authorities, and this makes 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 plight has become even more apparent during this pandemic that has upended everyone’s lives.
Many refugees and asylum-seekers have yet to be vaccinated, putting them at heightened risk of contracting the virus due to their crowded living conditions – this then becomes a threat to the wider community, obviously.
To assist the government to better protect refugees and asylum- seekers, the Malaysian Bar has been engaging with the UNHCR to seek holistic and comprehensive solutions. We understand that the UNHCR stands ready to continue supporting the government’s Covid-19 response, including the implementation of the Covid-19 immunisation programme. It is also ready to assist in reaching out to the refugee and asylum-seeking communities, including through relevant communication efforts and community engagement, which is in line with the Health Ministry’s vaccine preparedness communications plan.
Here is an example of support rendered by UNHCR: At the government’s request, the UNHCR provided assistance in translating vaccine information posters and audio files into 11 languages commonly spoken by refugees. The UNHCR is also working with its NGO partners on community engagement and mobilisation to support the Health Ministry’s efforts.
The Malaysian Bar repeats its call for the government to ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, both of which are instruments of international law that recognise the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. We also urge the government to act with compassion and humanity towards these vulnerable communities by putting in place a suitable legal and administrative framework to properly handle refugees and asylum- seekers.
Refugees and asylum-seekers are people too, and deserve to be afforded dignity, kindness and respect.
President, Malaysian Bar