On World Refugee Day — which is observed on 20 June annually — 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. Based on the statistics provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”) in Malaysia, there are 179,570 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with them in Malaysia.1 Refugees and asylum-seekers are victims of persecution who are compelled to flee to foreign lands to seek refuge. It is disheartening to see that the Malaysian Government still does not expressly recognise the concept of refugees or asylum-seekers. Recent reports of raids conducted on migrant communities2 as a means to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Malaysia are not only undesirable, but also may 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. This community is forced to fend for themselves and their families without legal protection, exposing them to exploitation. Their plight becomes even more apparent during the age of COVID-19, where everyone’s life has been upended.
Many refugees and asylum-seekers have yet to be vaccinated, putting them at heightened risk of contracting the virus due to their living conditions. In order 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 UNHCR stands ready to continue providing support to the Government of Malaysia in its COVID-19 response, including in the implementation of the COVID-19 Immunisation Programme. It is also ready to assist in mobilising and reaching out to the refugee and asylum-seeking communities, including through relevant communication efforts and community engagement, all of which are in line with the Ministry of Health’s vaccine preparedness communications plan. Here is an example of support rendered by UNHCR: At the request of the Malaysian Government, 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 non-governmental organisation (“NGO”) partners for community engagement and mobilisation to support the Ministry of Health’s efforts.
The Malaysian Bar repeats its clarion call for the Malaysian 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 this vulnerable community 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.
A G KALIDAS
18 June 2021
1 “Figures at a Glance in Malaysia”, UNHCR Malaysia.
2 “‘We need to correct the situation’ - Hamzah says migrant raids to continue”, Malaysiakini, 11 June 2021.