Thursday, November 5, 2015

Malaysia says 'no' to signing refugee convention

Despite opening its doors to more refugees, Malaysia does not intend to become a party to two United Nations treaties that define what a refugee is and the responsibilities states have towards them.

Deputy Foreign Minister Reezal Merican Naina told parliament Wednesday that Malaysia remains determined not to sign the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol for the time being, but will continue to assist those from Myanmar and the Middle East.

"The assistance that we extend is based solely on humanitarian grounds. We do not want to enter as a state party of the convention to be forced to accept the refugees," he said.

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"The government has made the decision as to whether to ratify the convention based on an evaluation of its capacity."

Naina underlined that despite Malaysia's steadfast position on the agreements, it had allowed those awarded refugee status by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to seek shelter while waiting for resettlement to a third country or a return to their homeland.

UNHCR refugees currently living in Malaysia include Sri Lankans and Muslim Rohingyas.
"In terms of welfare, they are allowed access to medical services at public clinics and hospitals at a 50 percent discount [to prices] imposed on expatriates, while vaccination for children is free," Naina said.

"They are not stopped from getting formal education at private schools run by their community or non-governmental organizations."

Naina also said that besides Prime Minister Najib Razak's recent commitment to accept 3,000 Syrian migrants within the next three years, the government had also contributed $500,000 to help Syrians during the Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference (IHPC) in Kuwait on Jan. 15 last year.

"This was aimed at helping Syrians in and outside their homeland, as well as to ease the burden on countries who are now host to some four million Syrian immigrants."

Rohingya have been fleeing persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar since sectarian violence erupted in 2012 -- many in the hope of employment in Malaysia.

The South East Asia boat people crisis began early May after Thai authorities launched a crackdown against people-smuggling camps, scaring traffickers into abandoning their human cargo -- mostly Bangladeshis and Muslim Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar -- at sea.

Following a tri-nation conference on the crisis May 20, Indonesia and Malaysia announced they would take the Rohingya in for one year before the international community finds homes for them, while repatriating the Bangladeshis.