PETALING JAYA: Refugees or asylum-seekers registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are not immune to prosecution if they have committed a crime.
While the organisation offers protection to those in need of international protection, it does not extend to those who have committed serious crimes or actions contrary to the tenets of the United Nations.
UNHCR spokesman in Kuala Lumpur, Yante Ismail, said a detailed and thorough examination would be carried out in such instances.
“Though it is our policy to not comment publicly on individual cases, we take these issues seriously,” she said in reference to the recent arrests of three suspected militants carrying UNHCR cards.
“The refugees are responsible to conform to the laws and regulations of their country of asylum, as well as to abide by measures taken by the authorities to maintain public order.”
Yante said the UNHCR had a legal and thorough procedure in determining a person's refugee status under the Refugee Status Determination process.
She said this would include a detailed interview and investigation by trained personnel before someone obtained refugee status.
“Due to the thoroughness, particularly in high-profile and complicated cases, this process would usually take some time,” she said.
“The procedure involves assessing whether a person is in need of protection and also, when required, whether their conduct would exclude them from protection.”
As long as the refugees have been forced to leave their homelands due to armed conflict, persecution, and serious human rights abuses, Yante said there was no expiry date on their refugee status until a long-term solution was found.
She said a refugee had the right to safe asylum and would not be forced to return to a country that would put the refugee's life or freedom at risk.
“The international protection includes more than physical safety as the refugees deserve to receive at least equal rights and basic help as any other legal foreign resident of a country.
“However, since Malaysia is not a state party to the 1951 Refugees Convention and its protocol, Malaysian law makes no distinction between refugees and undocumented migrants, because it does not have an asylum system to regulate the status and rights of refugees,” she said.
Yante said while refugees in general should have basic civil, economic, and social rights as others, this did not apply in Malaysia.
Refugees here are unable to work legally and are at risk of arrest or detention for immigration offences.
However, she said Malaysia did continue to cooperate with UNHCR in addressing refugee issues on humanitarian grounds.
“This is particularly so in preventing the arrest, detention, and deportation of refugees, and enabling NGOs and the refugee community to provide welfare assistance programmes to them,” she said.
“We cooperate with various government bodies, NGOs and volunteers to assist refugees in different areas and also to support durable solutions, such as resettlement to third countries including Australia, Canada and the United States.”
Yesterday, Malay Mail reported three men were detained in raids in Petaling Jaya and Klang on May 15. They were believed to be members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The trio, who were arrested for suspected terrorist activities in the country, had been in the country since 2004, and had used UNHCR cards to stay and avoid action.
As at last month, there were 144,300 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia.
-The Malay Mail