SUBANG JAYA: Malaysia received 68 Syrian migrants who are seeking refuge from the conflict-torn country Saturday.
The group, consisting of 18 families with 31 children as young as seven-months, arrived in a chartered plane at the Subang Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) base at about 11am.
With their bags in tow, the refugees disembarked from the plane to a round of applause from the ground staff, members of non-governmental organisations and politicians waiting below.
Among those welcoming the Syrians were Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim.
"The presence of our brothers and sisters from Syria today renews our commitment, as put forward by our Prime Minister last year, to help solve the problem in Syria and in other Middle Eastern countries now," Dr Ahmad Zahid said in a short ceremony at the base observation lounge.
He stressed that the migrants were being housed in Malaysia on a temporary basis and that they will be issued a temporary pass and other relevant documents to remain here until the situation in Syria stabilises.
In the meantime, Dr Ahmad Zahid said that the Home Ministry would issue temporary work permits to allow the adult migrants, some of whom were engineers, doctors and lecturers, to find work here.
The children would be issued student visas to study in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools and in universities.
They will be housed at a condominium in Setia Alam, with families being allocated a three-bedroom apartment each, he said.
Private companies have helped to sponsor the families during their stay here.
The migrants' movements will be monitored by NGOs and Ministry officials.
At the United Nations General Assembly in New York last year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had announced that Malaysia would open its doors to 3,000 Syrian migrants over the next three years to help alleviate the refugee crisis.
About four million Syrian refugees have fled into neighbouring countries since the start of the civil war there in 2011.
Malaysia received 11 Syrians in the first batch of arrivals in December last year.
Dr Ahmad Zahid said Malaysia had targeted 150 Syrian migrants to be brought in for the second batch but had to narrow it down to 68 after some did not pass health or security checks.
In his speech, Dr Ahmad Zahid also suggested that some migrants made the cut but chose not to come to Malaysia because they may have had "the wrong perception" of the country.
"Malaysia is not the United States or a European country so maybe that is why they did not want to come. Maybe they don't know the situation here and that we are a peaceful country with a caring Government and nation.
"I am sure after they hear from the 68 that have come, they will regret not coming here," he said in his speech.
He said Malaysia aimed to bring in another 200 Syrians during the Ramadan fasting month and was in the process of screening migrants in the Bekaa Valley Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon.