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Suhakam Urges Malaysia To Recognise Rights Of Refugees

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KUALA LUMPUR: The lack of a proper system to govern refugees has allowed human rights abuses against refugees to take place, said the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam). 

The non-recognition of refugees by Malaysia has made the community more marginalised, added Suhakam vice-chair Datuk Dr Khaw Lake Tee. 

“We urge for the establishment of a Government-led system which engages with various other organisations such as the UNHCR and non-governmental bodies which deal with refugees to ensure a better mechanism to deal with the issues and challenges faced by refugees in Malaysia. 

“And we will continue to urge the Government to accede to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 and its 1967 Optional Protocol in order to accord adequate protection to, and to respect the rights of, refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.” 

Dr Khaw said this in her keynote address Thursday on the commission’s role at the Roundtable on Challenges and Opportunities for Refugees in an Urban Environment organised by the UNHCR. 

Since Suhakam’s inception, she said it has been inquiring into complaints of alleged violations of their human rights and by recommending to the Government to accede to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 and its 1967 Optional Protocol. 

“Over the last four years, from 2012-2015, we have received a total of 129 complaints from refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.”

The breakdown is as follows: 50 in 2012, 25 in 2013, 38 in 2014 and 16 as at Nov 17 this year. 

The complaints related mainly to health, education, employment, vulnerability to arrests and detention, and delays in registration and resettlement.   

“In relation to health, the complaints were about their inability to pay medical bills, especially for those who were admitted to hospital for chronic illnesses,” said Dr Khaw, adding that Suhakam has received several requests for medical and financial assistance from members of the refugee community.   

While refugees get a 50% discount at government hospitals, she noted this was available “only to UNHCR card holders, and not to asylum seekers, or those who may be persons of concern but who do not possess valid UNHCR documents”.  

She reminded the Government of its obligation under Article 24(1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which states that every child shall have access to adequate healthcare. 

And as Malaysia is a signatory to the CRC, it must strive to protect the rights of all children including refugee children to obtain access to education, said Dr Khaw. 

However, there is no access to formal education for refugee children in Malaysia. 

Instead, Dr Khaw said there was alternative or informal education from projects run by UNHCR in partnership with non-governmental organisations, or community-based education classes organised by the refugee communities themselves with the support of non-refugee groups such as faith-based organisations. 

“The Commission asserts, however, that there is no substitute for formal education with necessary resources to meet the educational needs of refugee children. 

“Education is an important element in everyone’s life, with the ability to change a person’s life, especially when education is one of the main assessment criteria for resettlement.” 

Dr Khaw commended the Government for its proposal to allow Rohingya refugees to seek employment through a pilot project, which will focus on certain market sectors. 

“The Commission welcomed a similar decision to issue work permits to refugees in July 2013. However, that did not materialise,” she added.  

On Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s announcement at the UN General Assembly in New York on Oct 2 that Malaysia would accept 3,000 Syrian refugees and provide them with shelter and jobs temporarily, as well as access to education for their children while in Malaysia, she said Suhakam hoped such rights would be extended to all refugees in Malaysia. 

In relation to allegations of abuse of power by enforcement authorities as well as the unsatisfactory conditions of immigration deportation centres, she said there was no proper system to govern the arrest, detention and deportation of refugees.  

Dr Khaw added that lack of recognition of their status as refugees rendered them vulnerable to arrests and detention, as well as abuses at the hands of the authorities.  

-The Star Online