Tuesday, March 22, 2016

UNHCR defends registration card system in Malaysia


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has defended its registration card system after Malaysian officials accused the refugee agency of "mismanagement" and allowing the system to be abused.

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By Sumisha Naidu, Malaysia Correspondent, Channel NewsAsia

KUALA LUMPUR: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has defended its registration card system after Malaysian officials accused the refugee agency of "mismanagement" and allowing the system to be abused.

UNHCR's representative to Malaysia, Richard Towle, told Channel NewsAsia officials seems to have misunderstood its role in the country as well. He disagreed that the refugee agency should be solely responsible for asylum seekers and refugees just because Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

"Our role here is given to us by the United Nations of which Malaysia is one of the members - let's be clear that Malaysia is part of the United Nations - and the United Nations has been given the responsibility to help take refugees where countries don't feel they can do it on their own," he said.

"We are here to help Malaysia deal with the refugee problem, we are not a substitute for Malaysia's responsibilities to deal with refugees." These comments come as the UNHCR is taken to task by officials over reports of people being able to buy fake UNHCR cards for as little as US$30.

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Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed told reporters on Tuesday (Mar 22) that immigration authorities had trouble distinguishing between fake and real UNHCR cards as well.

"There are incidences where people not from Myanmar ... have UNCHR card. Because when they run out of social passes, when they overstay, they go to the UNHCR office and apply for status as refugees," he said.

"Actually that is wrong ... we are telling the UNHCR, you will be responsible for the cards you issue, whether it is forged by agents on the street or issued by them, they have to take responsibility."

Mr Towle said tackling the problem requires government collaboration as well. "We are satisfied that the procedures we have put in place for genuine refugees have very strong security features, there are tough tests and we produce high quality cards that cannot be duplicated - we can tell the difference between real cards and false cards," he said.

"That means we need to have a closer degree of cooperation between our work and the work of the law enforcement officials in Malaysia, try to root out those who are capitalising and benefiting on people's misery, to be frank."

Malaysian Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Shahidan Kassim has long wanted the refugee agency to stop issuing ID cards altogether without first consulting the government. As it is, Malaysia already has more than two million undocumented migrants on its shores.

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Officials want UNHCR to resettle registered asylum seekers and refugees in countries that are signatories to the 1951 convention to reduce the number of migrants and security risk in Malaysia.

Mr Towle said UNHCR in Malaysia had already resettled more than 100,000 asylum seekers and refugees in the past ten years. But resettlement is not an option for everyone and it wants the government to consider granting those who remain access to basic rights, such as the right to work.

This is something Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan said they are looking into via a pilot programme launched last December.

"We are not signatories to the UNHCR agreement, therefore we are not responsible for the fate of the refugees here but for humanitarian reasons and because there's a large number of them in this country, due to the mismanagement of the UNHCR, we are now thinking of (how they can work here)," he said.

- CNA/de

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