PETALING JAYA: A migrant rights activist has called on the government to release refugees and asylum seekers in detention centres if it wants to prove it is serious about helping them.
North-South Initiative executive director Adrian Pereira said he welcomed reports that Putrajaya is considering an agreement with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR over its role and responsibility.
“If Malaysia wants to demonstrate that it is serious and genuine about helping refugees, we must first ensure all asylum seekers and refugees in detention centres are released,” he told FMT.
He said the release would show the government’s goodwill in wanting to better manage the situation.
Pereira also said the government should ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and pass laws pertaining to refugees so that a proper legal framework can be established to facilitate a working relationship with UNHCR.
“There are certain prerequisites the government must fulfil to prove they are really serious about it,” he said.
Yesterday, deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the responsibility of managing refugees and asylum seekers should not be shifted to the government or local community but rather to UNHCR.
Government officials had previously suggested that the UNHCR office in Malaysia be shut down to allow Putrajaya to manage refugees in the country better without external interference. A minister later said the federal government was in the process of taking over oversight of refugee management.
Former Klang MP Charles Santiago said UNHCR could help the refugees by providing them with identity papers after which they could be absorbed into the workforce.
“So many of them have so much work experience. Why not use these resources? I think that is an untapped human resource that can be utilised efficiently,” he said.
A total of 185,760 refugees and asylum seekers are currently registered with UNHCR.