By P Prem Kumar
Malaysia is due to take in 100 Syrian refugees next week as part of its commitment to accept 3,000 people from the war-torn country over the next three years, a deputy prime minister announced Saturday.
Malaysia's Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who also serves as home minister, said the 100 Syrians consisting of 24 families currently at a refugee camp in Lebanon would be brought to capital Kuala Lumpur on May 28.
"They will arrive on three special flights at the Royal Malaysian Air Force base. Prime Minister [Najib Razak] would receive them," he said in a statement.
Hamidi added that officials from his ministry, including a police team, would depart for Beirut soon to carry out a security and health screening process before transporting the Syrians to Malaysia.
"We ensure that Malaysia will only bring in those with clean records in both health and security criteria,” he underlined. “They will be placed at a temporary housing in Shah Alam [in western Selangor state].”
In December, eight Syrians with family members living in Malaysia became the first group of refugee from the Middle Eastern country to arrive in the archipelago.
In October, premier Razak had announced to a United Nations General Assembly session in New York that Malaysia would open its doors to 3,000 Syrian migrants over the next three years to help with the refugee crisis caused by the ongoing war.
Five Syrian refugees families have arrived in Malaysia to date, all screened through the Advance Passenger Screening System with the cooperation of Interpol and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Malaysia is expected to take in 1,000 Syrian refugees every year from 2016 to 2018.
Malaysia had earlier stressed its unwillingness to become party to the UN’s 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.
The country has remained steadfast against inking the convention, while expressing its commitment to continue extending assistance to refugees from the Middle East and the Rohingya Muslim minority who fled Myanmar.
Malaysia currently hosts one of the largest urban refugee populations in the world.
As of 2014, some 146,020 refugees and asylum seekers had been registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia -- with the vast majority, or some 135,000, being from Myanmar.
The three largest groups among those from Myanmar are ethnic Chin, Rohingya and other Muslims.
Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.
Since then, more than 250,000 people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced, according to UN figures.
Turkey, which has hosted 2.7 million Syrians since April 2011, shelters more refugees than any other country in the world, according to the UNHCR.