Wednesday, February 24, 2010

ID cards for refugees: A step in the right direction

Suaram welcomes the announcement by the Home Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Mahmood Adam of the government’s plans to issue identification cards to refugees recognised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
We view this as a positive development towards the recognition of the right to seek asylum as enshrined in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
However, Suaram notes with disappointment that Mahmood Adam stated that the refugees “cannot work here, but they can do odd jobs” [1]. The government must also allow refugees access to full-time work and (permission to) earn a living while they remain in the country. The more than 75,000 refugees and asylum seekers currently registered with UNHCR is an existing source of labour. Instead of importing more migrant workers, the government should first exhaust existing sources of labour in the country.

With regards to the planned crackdown on undocumented migrants scheduled to be carried out on 15 February, the Government must take precautions to prevent arrests of refugees and asylum seekers carrying UNHCR documents. In addition, the government must make concerted efforts to identify the root causes for the large population of undocumented migrants in Malaysia which include labour trafficking and poorly formed policies that cause migrant workers to become undocumented. Crackdowns are in reality flash-in-the-pan big efforts that fail to solve the problem. What is needed in Malaysia is a reform of immigration policies.

Malaysia has long been criticised for its poor treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. On a daily basis, refugees and asylum seekers are arrested, sentenced for immigration offences, whipped and detained indefinitely. Suaram hopes that with this current effort to issue identification cards for refugees, the government is changing its treatment of refugees and asylum seekers and that more changes towards respecting the rights of refugees will be made.

Lastly, Suaram calls upon the Government to ratify the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Temme Lee
3 February 2010