The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country.
In Malaysia, UNHCR works with partners to protect and assist some 47,600 refugees and asylum-seekers currently registered with the Agency.
- 42,309 are from Myanmar, comprising some 15,800 Chins, 15,200 Rohingyas, 4,000 Myanmar Muslims and the remaining are other ethnic minorities from Myanmar.
- There are some 5,280 refugees and asylum-seekers from other countries, including some 2,450 Sri Lankans, 700 Somalis, 555 Iraqis and 550 Afghans.
66% of refugees and asylum-seekers are men, while 34% are women. There are some 14,200 children below the age of 18, of whom some 7,000 are of school-going age. There is also a large number of persons of concern to UNHCR who remain unregistered. Refugee communities themselves estimate that the population of unregistered refugees and asylum-seekers could be close to the number of those already registered.
UNHCR in Malaysia
Although Malaysia is not a State Party to the 1951 Convention and its Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, the Malaysian Government continues to cooperate with UNHCR in addressing refugee issues on humanitarian grounds.
As there are currently no legislative or administrative provisions in place for dealing with the situation of asylum-seekers or refugees in the country, UNHCR conducts all activities related to the reception, registration, documentation and status determination of asylum-seekers and refugees.
As part of its programme of humanitarian support for refugees, UNHCR cooperates with various partners including government agencies, Non-Governmental Organisations and volunteers to:
- provide assistance for refugees in a variety of areas including healthcare, education, financial support for vulnerable individuals, shelter, counseling and other welfare needs,
- provide outreach and community development support to refugee communities,
- carry out detention monitoring and intervention,
- provide legal representation in court for offences under the Immigration Act,
- carry out advocacy, capacity-building, training with the refugees, Government, media and civil society partners,
- mobilize resources including corporate and public fundraising, and
- support durable solutions for refugees including resettlement to countries including the United States, Australia, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden, and the Czech Republic.
UNHCR began its operations in Malaysia in 1975 when Vietnamese refugees began to arrive by boat in Malaysia and other countries in the region.
From 1975 until 1996, UNHCR assisted the Malaysian government in providing protection and assistance for the Vietnamese boat people. Over those two decades as part of an international burden sharing effort UNHCR resettled more than 240,000 Vietnamese to countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, France, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway. During that same period more than 9,000 persons returned home to Vietnam with the support of UNHCR.
During the 1970s and 1980s UNHCR assisted the Malaysian Government in receiving and locally settling over 50,000 Filipino Muslims from Mindanao who fled to Sabah. UNHCR also supported the Malaysian Government in locally settling several thousand Muslim Chams from Cambodia in the 1980s and several hundred Bosnian refugees in the 1990s.
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