Thursday, February 25, 2010

Refugees dying to work

THE refugees and asylum seekers in the country are willing to do whatever it takes to make ends meet. The Rohingyas, for example, will jump at any opportunity to be given gainful employment.
Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation Malaysia (MERHROM) president Zafar Ahmead says the refugees have been surviving here with great difficulty.

"The government doesn't allow us to work.

"We survive and make a living scrounging for jobs from the public. We work part-time, do odd jobs, help out at businesses and construction sites."

Zafar says that there are never any guarantees for the community's safety, with detention by police and Rela personnel a possibility at any time.

Zafar says any jobs that are opened up to them will be "of interest".

"If the government gives us these jobs, we will be very happy.

"We are not demanding for cushy jobs in air-conditioned offices. We just want the opportunity to work and make a better life for ourselves."

As of January, there are 79,300 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia.

There are 20,000 more unregistered refugees and asylum-seekers.

They may just get what they want.

The Human Resources Ministry had on Monday said that it would present to the cabinet another proposal allowing the 90,000-odd refugees in the country to work.

Minister Datuk Dr S. Subramaniam said he had put up a case to the cabinet some time ago, but no decision was taken then.

He believed that it would be a good move to employ them.

Subramaniam had said utilising refugees as a workforce while they waited to be resettled elsewhere would also prove beneficial to the country's economic well-being.
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However, former Immigration Department enforcement director Datuk Ishak Mohammed begs to differ.

"We can give them work, but who will stop the other refugees from coming in?

"They will come here, saying they want to visit Malaysia and then claim refugee status and say they want to work," he says, adding that they would next settle down and demand citizenship.

Ishak says the UNHCR will not lift a finger to relocate the refugees to other countries if such a situation comes to pass.

He says giving them jobs here will not solve their problems and it is up to developed countries to help them out.

UNHCR spokesperson Yante Ismail says the organisation is pleased that Malaysia is considering allowing refugees to work.

"We believe this is in the long-term humanitarian, economic and security interest of Malaysia and consistent with Malaysia's own humanitarian tradition in helping those in need. We look forward to supporting the government of Malaysia in this initiative."

Yante adds that UNHCR in Malaysia continues to push for long-term solutions for all refugees including finding them homes in third countries and helping them return home safely.