PETALING JAYA: A think tank has urged the government to reconsider plans to close the UN High Commission for Refugees’ (UNHCR) office in Malaysia.
In a statement, the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) said Putrajaya should instead prioritise establishing a legal framework for refugee rights.
Previously, special functions minister Abd Latiff Ahmad said the government planned to shut down UNHCR’s local office, in line with its intention to take over the management of refugees in Malaysia.
IDEAS chief executive officer Tricia Yeoh said UNHCR had been playing a crucial role in safeguarding refugees and asylum seekers in the country as Malaysia was not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol.
“(UNHCR) provides a broad spectrum of protection such as refugee status determination and resettlement. It also works with various NGOs to provide assistance in healthcare, education, financial assistance, shelter, counselling, and other welfare needs,” she said.
Given UNHCR’s longstanding role in refugee and asylum-seeker management, IDEAS would like to express concern over the government’s readiness to take over its role, especially without a legal framework.
“For the government to demonstrate its commitment and readiness to take over refugee and asylum-seeker management, it has to first and foremost ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention.
“Or establish an alternative domestic policy and legal framework to ensure that Malaysia complies with international standards.”
Without such a framework, Yeoh said refugees would continue to be excluded from economic opportunities, as well as their fundamental rights to education and healthcare.
IDEAS also called for greater transparency and accountability on the government’s transition plans, should its involvement be expanded.
It also called for consultations with relevant stakeholders including the refugee community and civil society organisations with regards to its transition plans.