©Free Malaysia Today (Used by permission)
by Vinodh Pillai
KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Bar today urged more lawyers to provide legal assistance to refugees in the country, saying current laws do not accord them due recognition and protection.
Bar president Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor said there lacks a comprehensive policy framework to deal with the issues faced by refugees and asylum–seekers despite their large presence in Malaysia.
“Thus, they are exposed to arrest, detention, whipping and deportation,” he said in his speech at a signing ceremony on the Ralas legal aid scheme for refugees and asylum–seekers at Wisma Badan Peguam here.
Also present was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) deputy representative for Malaysia, Maja Lazic.
The Ralas pilot scheme was started by the Bar Council in October last year, in collaboration with UNHCR.
Practical training sessions are provided for refugee communities on their legal rights and obligations under Malaysian law, especially in relation to employment, immigration, and civil and shariah law.
According to UNHCR, there are over 170,000 refugees and asylum–seekers in the country, accounting for 0.5% of Malaysia’s population. Of these, 53.6% are Rohingya.
Fareed also welcomed Putrajaya’s plan to allow refugees the right to work, along with its statement that this would not jeopardise local interests.
“It is the Malaysian Bar’s hope that the Ralas initiative will meet its objectives in serving the needs of refugee communities,” he said.
He added that neither the Bar Council nor UNHCR is providing temporary work options to refugees under Ralas as this is the prerogative of the government.
“(Helping them out with) jobs is beyond the scope (of Ralas) but of course, if they face employment issues… we’ll help them,” he said.
Currently, refugees are not allowed to attend national schools or work in the country due to their lack of citizenship and documentation.
Maja said this poses a challenge for refugees who need a way to make ends meet.
She noted several successful government–linked initiatives such as the work pilot programme in collaboration with the home ministry and another initiative with a group of Syrian refugees.
“We’re hoping that some of those examples will lead the way forward for a policy (for refugees to be able to work),” she said.