KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 6 — Malaysia will start cataloguing next year some 95,000 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) here, many of whom are fleeing persecution and conflict from countries including Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The UNHCR announced today that the exercise beginning in January will be carried out progressively throughout the country in major cities where refugees are located.
“UNHCR will communicate closely with refugee communities on the timing and location of the registration exercise,” Alan Vernon, a UNHCR representative, said in a statement.
“This exercise will continue until all UNHCR refugees and asylum-seekers are registered.”
Vernon clarified that the registration exercise involves the registration of asylum-seekers and refugees, and is separate from the government’s ongoing 6P Migration Management Programme that focuses on migrants.
The 6P amnesty programme is aimed at helping government identify the number of illegal immigrants in Malaysia.
Once identified, the government will decide on the number of workers needed to help Malaysia’s economy and grant them temporary work permits. The rest will be repatriated.
“UNHCR regards this as a significant opportunity to improve the situation of refugees. The inclusion of their bio data within a government database will lead to greater protection for refugees, particularly against arrest and detention as their identities can be easily verified by law enforcement officials,” said Vernon.
“This will also help prevent prosecution of persons holding UNHCR documents for immigration offences or deportation. It will also help address the problem of fraudulent UNHCR identification cards.”
Malaysia also announced last month that Myanmarese detained for minor immigration crimes will be sent back to Myanmar to reduce the crowded depots in the country. The same will apply to Malaysian detainees in Myanmar.
The move drew comparisons with the failed refugee swap deal with Canberra, dubbed the “Malaysian Solution”, where Australia would send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia for processing in return for accepting 4,000 refugees from Malaysia.
“While Malaysia is not yet a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, UNHCR very much appreciates the co-operation we enjoy with the Malaysian government and looks forward to continuing discussions on how to strengthen refugee protection in Malaysia including creating opportunities for legal work for refugees as well as enhanced access to education and health services,” Vernon said.
He added that both parties have agreed to ensure the confidentiality of the biographical information that will be gathered from the UNHCR document holders.
“UNHCR is also grateful for the close co-operation with the Malaysian government, in particular the Ministry of Home Affairs, in both preventing arrest of refugees and asylum-seekers and securing their release if arrested,” he said.