KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia may allow refugees the right to work in an apparent bid to reduce the country's labor shortage and deflect criticism of ill-treating them, a news report said Monday.The proposal would mark a major policy shift toward refugees who, as illegal immigrants, have been subject to detention, caning and deportation. Malaysia has so far refused to officially recognize them, fearing a flood of migrants.
Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said authorities would discuss letting employers hire refugees instead of importing foreign workers. The country depends heavily on foreign labor in such industries as construction, manufacturing and farming.
"The suggestion might work but we need to look at it from all angles," The Star quoted Hishammuddin as saying.
Officials could not immediately be reached for further details.
Earlier this month, Malaysia announced it planned to issue ID cards to refugees — in a first move toward recognizing them and sparing them from being arrested with other illegals.
Florida Sandanasamy, an official with local refugee rights group Tenaganita, welcomed the work proposal as a first "small step."
The United Nations refugee agency says there are almost 80,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers in Malaysia. Most of them fled persecution in Myanmar.
All of them are waiting to be resettled to a third country that officially accepts them, granting them legal status and the right to work.