Allow refugees to work legally, says UNHCR

UNHCR representative Richard Towle says employers need the kind of labour provided by refugees.

KUALA LUMPUR: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has urged the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government to allow refugees to work legally so that they will be able to enjoy better benefits.

UNHCR representative Richard Towle said by allowing the refugees to work legally, the government would also be able to ensure better adherence to law and order.

Towle said refugees had been in the country for 50 years and a policy allowing them to stay and work legally using their UNHCR cards would be a watershed.

“Employers need the kind of labour the refugees provide.

“If the refugees are allowed to work legally, they can get better income, better healthcare and education,” said Richard in an interview with the media.

When asked to respond to the views of several employer associations which are against allowing refugees to work, Towle said it was an “illogical point of view”.

“Refugees are here working in the black market economy with high levels of exploitation, low wages. This gives a bad reputation for certain companies and also a bad reputation for Malaysia.

“If you let people who are here already work legally, then you can flush them out of the black market economy.

“You know who are here, you can control where they live and where they work. Trafficking and prisons do not do any good for anybody,” he said.

Meanwhile, when asked about Malaysia’s ratification of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951, Towle said it could be done on a longer term.

“The most important thing is to regularise the rights of refugees, right here, right now, through executive orders, minor amendments to domestic regulations, and policies.

“There are many important practical things that can be done now without signing the convention,” he said.

Towle said it did not mean that without signing the convention, Malaysia had no responsibilities towards helping the refugees.

“You can hugely change the the quality of refugee protection by allowing refugees to work legally.

“But before we talk about signing the convention, let’s make sure that regulations are tidied up first and then having done that, if Malaysia feels comfortable about signing the convention, we would be delighted for the support,” he said.

Towle said it was much better for a country to do what they were capable of doing within their resources rather than signing a convention and having no ability to honour the obligations.

“There are many countries which have signed the convention that are doing far less than what Malaysia is doing, even in some developed nations they are not necessarily doing as much as Malaysia.

“We must help Malaysians to understand that it is not the only step,” he said.

When asked if UNHCR officials have met the new government to discuss refugee issues, Towle said that they were hoping to meet the relevant ministries as soon as possible.

The 1951 Refugee Convention is a UN multilateral treaty that defines a refugee and sets out the right of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum.

The convention also sets out which people do not qualify as refugees, such as war criminals, while building on Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognises the right of persons to seek asylum from persecution in other countries.

A refugee may also enjoy rights and benefits in a state in addition to those provided for in the convention.