Contributed by Liew Kok Heng, Writer/Editor, Bar Council Secretariat; and photos by Roslan Mahamud, Senior Administrative Assistant, Bar Council Secretariat
On 1 Oct 2020, delegates from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”) paid a courtesy call to the Malaysian Bar at Wisma Badan Peguam.
Thomas Albrecht, Representative from the UNHCR; Shobna Sivaraman, Head of Protection Unit; and Deven Paramanantham, Senior Protection Associate, were warmly received by Salim Bashir, President of the Malaysian Bar.
In attendance for the meeting also were M Ramachelvam, Co-Chairperson of the Migrants, Refugees and Immigration Affairs Committee (via Webex); Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor; Co-Chairperson of the National Legal Aid and YBGK Committee (via Webex); Roger Chan Weng Keng, Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee; Rajen Devaraj, Chief Executive Officer; and officers of the Bar Council Secretariat.
The meeting commenced with an introduction of the UNHCR and its activities by Thomas Albrecht. Subsequently, pertinent matters such as the coronavirus 2019 (“COVID-19”) related impact on refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia, the Refugee and Asylum-Seekers Legal Aid Scheme (“RALAS”), and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic were discussed.
During the meeting, Thomas Albrecht praised the Malaysian Bar’s efforts in defending the rights of migrants and refugees to access to justice, especially during the Movement Control Order (“MCO”) period imposed by the Government to contain the COVID-19 pandemic in Malaysia. He also noted that more strategic legal intervention is needed to protect these communities' right to due process, and sought the Malaysian Bar's continued assistance in this matter.
On the matter of continuing RALAS, the President of the Malaysian Bar expressed reservations on signing a new format of agreement to renew the cooperation between the Malaysian Bar and the UNHCR. This is because the updated agreement contained additional appendixes deemed to be intrusive to the independence of the Malaysian Bar. In light of this, the UNHCR delegates stated that they would arrange a further follow-up with their experts and Bar Council representatives to alleviate this concern, including studying the option of waiving the appendixes or reusing the previous agreement, as suggested by the President.
While the follow-up is underway, the President of the Malaysian Bar assured the UNHCR delegates that collaboration between the Malaysian Bar and the UNHCR will continue. He added that despite the disruptive changes the COVID-19 pandemic had on the lives of many, the Malaysian Bar's strong advocacy on the rule of law and human rights remains consistent.
The meeting ended with both parties expressing the hope that the longstanding relationship between the Malaysian Bar and the UNHCR will continue to develop beneficially in assisting the migrant and refugee communities, who are particularly at risk during these challenging times.