In Malaysia, UNHCR works with Government agencies and civil society to protect refugees and assist in their welfare needs while they are seeking temporary asylum in Malaysia.
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.
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 comprising, among others, the United States, Australia, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden, and the Czech Republic