PETALING JAYA: Employers should not hire refugees until the proper legal framework is put in place by the Government, said Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan.
"We are in agreement with the Government that refugees should not work, and holding the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) card is not a licence to be employed.
"Currently, refugees can only be employed with the sanction of the Home Ministry," he said when contacted by The Star Online on Thursday.
Shamsuddin said that while most refugees holding a UNHCR card are usually moved to a third country within a few years, this is not the case here, with many Rohingya refugees in Malaysia for 25 years.
"Employers need to understand that the UNHCR is not an employment agency and it cannot allow these people to be taken in as employees. If the employers are caught, they can be prosecuted," said Shamsuddin.
He added that the Government needs to decide as a matter of policy what to do with the refugees in Malaysia.
"If the Government allows them to earn a living when they are here, it is up to the Government to set the conditions for the work permits. If we do employ them, it can be for an even longer period than foreign workers, who can be here for up to 10 years. They can be a stable source of human resources," said Shamsuddin.
It was reported on Sunday that the UNHCR receives many calls from businesses asking it to supply workers, with UNHCR Malaysia deputy representative Brian Gorlick saying that the requests can be from small businesses asking for 50 workers to large ones asking for 1,000 people.
As of March, 158,794 refugees have been registered with UNHCR, out of which 90% are from Myanmar.
Malaysia however does not legally recognise refugees, and they are forced to earn a living by working in informal sectors.
Gorlick however said that refugees who work risk being picked up by the authorities for breaking the law.
He pointed out that a World Bank report last December indicated that refugees could contribute to the migrant worker pool.