If Malaysia wants to solve the problem of refugees in the country, the government must sign the UN Refugee Convention 1951 fully.
The problem of refugees in Malaysia is an egg-and-chicken problem which has festered for decades, and telling the United Nations about the problem we have is not going to solve it.
First of all, Malaysia has to remember that we do not have “refugees” and we have only “illegal migrants”, simply because Malaysia has yet to sign the UN Refugee Convention 1951, which defines refugees, their rights and the duties of the states.
For now, those who enter Malaysia illegally, even if they were seeking refuge, under the Malaysian law, they are illegals and can be arrested for not having proper identification documents.
They cannot attend schools and they do not get healthcare benefits. If they stay out of sight and dodge the laws, they will be able to survive and stay. Otherwise, they end up in detention centres or dumped elsewhere.
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) have been here for years, but Malaysia has no duty to host them, and if Malaysia wants to, it can ask UNHCR to pack up and leave anytime.
While it is heartening that despite all these, Malaysia on the whole -Malaysians and the government – have been kind enough to host UNHCR and close one eye over these illegal refugees, with some being here for generations now, it is disturbing that these couple of millions of human beings are languishing in our country without education and healthcare, complete with untreated social problems within their own communities and with vultures waiting to pounce on their misfortune from outside.
The Star reported that Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had highlighted this problem at the High Level Meeting on Addressing Large Movement of Refugees and Migrants on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) yesterday in NewYork.
He was reported to have said that while Malaysia had never shirked its humanitarian assistance over the years, it was facing problems in resettling the existing refugee population in Malaysia in third countries which had taken years.
“Migration has become and continues to be one of the security challenges faced by Malaysia, either in the form of irregular, illegal and mixed migration flows.
“In the early 70s, Malaysia faced the exodus of Vietnamese boat people and they were resettled in third countries with the assistance of the UNHCR.
“Nonetheless, as of July 31 2016, Malaysia is still hosting approximately 151,596 Persons of Concern (POC) comprising asylum seekers and refugees from 54 countries, although the term ‘refugee’ is not defined under any of our domestic legislation.
“I would urge the UNHCR and other state parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its related Protocol to give serious attention and promptly act on it,” he said, reported the Star.
Zahid said the lingering problem of trying to resettle refugees would adversely create economic, social, political and security problems for Malaysia.
While Zahid is right to a certain extent, what Zahid should push for first is for Malaysia to sign that UN convention on refugees, so that we can actually identify those illegal immigrants who are indeed refugees, such as Rohingyas and Syrians, and sort out their problems.
Tidy out the room, then only will we see the real problems underneath.
Merely saying these people will put extra burden on us is not going to help. By saying we will be taking in more Syrian refugees is not going to endear us to anyone.
Third First World countries which refugees want to end up in are also picky on whom they choose and Malaysia cannot just push these shiploads of people to them.
It would be inhumane, if they were pushed back and end up dying in the seas, as what happened to the Rohingyas when they got pushed out to sea by Thailand in trying to clean their own country.
There should be a consistent plan, with the experts on refugees and illegal immigrants on board. Social workers, educators and healthcare workers too must be in on it. Politicians must not interfere.
This is the only way Malaysia can start the first step to solving the problem of illegal immigrants seeking refuge here.