Refugees mustn’t be prevented from earning a decent living, say NGOs

The Cabinet is expected to make a decision early next month whether refugees in the country should be allowed to work legally. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Two rights groups are urging Putrajaya to ensure refugees living in Malaysia are guaranteed the right to work after Human Resources Minister M Kula Segaran said a decision will be made on this by the Cabinet early next month.

The Solidarity Centre and Tenaganita welcomed the minister’s hints that some leeway could be made in this matter, saying they were hopeful of a positive decision from the Cabinet.

Solidarity Centre country director David John Welsh said it was “imperative” for Putrajaya to do so as international laws stipulated that refugees be given the opportunity to eke out a basic livelihood to sustain themselves.

“Once you’re a refugee, the understanding is that you’re there for a reason. You’re there because you’ve had to essentially escape an overwhelmingly volatile environment.

Solidarity Centre country director David John Welsh says refugees must be given the opportunity to eke out a living.

“The assumption is that once you’re granted refugee status, you’re going to be in the country for some time. As a result, you should not be denied from earning a living,” he told FMT.

Welsh highlighted two key issues Putrajaya needed to heed — law reforms and enforcement of those laws — in order to ensure refugees’ rights as workers were protected.

He said there needed to be an overhaul of the way the government treated migrant workers as refugees would come under the same category.

He said refugees and migrant workers should have access to benefits that Malaysian employees enjoyed, such as labour unions and the Social Security Organisation, adding that they were just as responsible for the economy’s development as local workers.

“The first step is to reformulate the legal frameworks operating in Malaysia pertaining to workers, trade unions, migrant workers or refugees.

“The second thing is to make sure it’s applied vigorously.

“Employers, particularly in precarious industries like plantations, agriculture and construction, have gotten away with very few and minimal obligations on their part regarding workers’ rights, particularly in the case of migrant workers,” he added.

Welsh said allowing companies to regulate themselves was no longer an option, reiterating that Putrajaya had the responsibility of enforcing the law strictly to protect the rights of refugees who are working.

He said refugees had been working here regardless of the law forbidding them from doing so and they had also been exploited for the past 20 years, along with migrant workers.

“The idea is to have decent work and to create decent working conditions. That’s what we hope for from the government.”

Meanwhile, Tenaganita executive director Glorene Dass urged the human resources ministry to be the sole ministry responsible for handling government matters pertaining to the hiring of refugees.

Tenaganita executive director Glorene Dass says the human resources ministry must be placed in charge of hiring refugees.

She said all refugee communities in Malaysia should be given access to work, regardless of their country of origin and not just one particular community.

“We look forward to a positive outcome from the Cabinet’s discussion on the right of refugees to work in this country and support themselves,” she told FMT.