KUALA LUMPUR: Civil societies have again called for the government to recognise the rights of refugees, saying Putrajaya should ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention.
Migrant rights group Tenaganita said the move would also protect women and children including those who fell victim to human traffickers.
“Arrest, detention and deportation is not the answer,” Tenaganita director Aegile Fernandez told reporters at the Women’s Conference held in conjunction with International Women’s Day.
She said it was wrong for the authorities to detain foreigners who fell victim to human smugglers just because they do not have documents.
“We have to give them the same protection as any Malaysian who is in a trafficking situation,” Fernandez said.
“We cannot discriminate. If you are a refugee or undocumented, it is a duty of the government to protect them, especially because of their vulnerable and high-risk state,” she said, adding that the Federal Constitution too said everyone should be given protection.
Tenaganita executive director Glorene Das meanwhile said by ratifying the convention, it would be easier for the government to ensure safe and secure repatriation of refugees.
She added that so long as Malaysia was a UN member state, it was obligated to protect all refugees especially women and children who flee their countries.
Das said there were cases of babies as young as three days old being picked up from the hospital and sent to the detention camp.
Another activist, Tham Hui Ying from Asylum Access, said currently there is no legislative or administrative framework in place to identify and protect asylum-seekers and refugees in the country.
However, she added that the government may still take steps to protect refugees, as they were already a signatory to other UN conventions that call for refugee protection such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
The government had also promised to grant legal status and work rights to refugees in their manifesto, she added.
“They are vulnerable to arrest and detention under really appalling conditions, even pregnant women and children are not exempted,” said Tham at the conference.