PETALING JAYA, Dec 17 — The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has refuted claims by the Immigration Department it has been slow to resettle refugees to third countries.
UNHCR spokesman Richard Towle said more than 100,000 refugees had been resettled out of Malaysia to third countries, including Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic and the United States since 2005.
He said the resettlement process was becoming increasingly difficult as priority was given to refugees from the Middle East, and the refugee situation cannot be resolved through resettlement alone.
“Resettlement is a diminishing option for most refugees because of global priorities such as the rough political climate in the Middle East,” he said.
“Host countries including Malaysia must find better ways in protecting those seeking asylum here.”
On allegations that no proper screening was carried out by the agency before according refugee status to illegal immigrants, especially from Myanmar, Towle said the government must accord more rights to refugees to address concerns on security and law and order in the country.
“We must accord them better protection to remove them for the clutches of exploitation and criminality and provide humanitarian protection to those in need,” he said.
As Malaysia is not party to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention, Towle said, it was a huge disadvantage for refugees living here without legal status as they were not able to work legally, had no access to education and were constantly at risk of arrest, detention, and deportation under immigration laws.
On whether UNHCR was providing special shelter and jobs for refugees here, he said it worked closely with non-governmental organisations and with the refugee communities to provide them with basic access to education, welfare assistance, healthcare support and self-reliance opportunities under their mandate.
“Refugees in Malaysia find their own coping mechanisms to support themselves and survive, including finding accommodation and ways to earn a living,” he said.
Asked if UNHCR was continuously monitoring the whereabouts of refugees in the country, Towle said it faced extreme challenges because of the lack of resources.
“With limited resources, managing a population of 150,000 refugees who live in an urban environment is extremely challenging,” he said.
- See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com