New UNHCR Representative Alan Vernon met with some 50 refugee group representatives here on Friday.
KUALA LUMPUR, 18 February 2009 - New UNHCR Representative Alan Vernon met with some 50 refugee group representatives, here on Friday. This marks his first large-scale public meeting with these communities since becoming head of the UNHCR Office in Malaysia four months ago.
In his address, Alan Vernon assured refugee communities of greater dialogue and cooperation between them and his Agency in order to find solutions to the issues and concerns they face.
"UNHCR values your role as leaders. Not only do you help organise your communities so that the members can better help themselves, but you represent their concerns to organisations like UNHCR," said Vernon to the group. "We hope to continue this meaningful dialogue with you."
Unlike smaller community meetings held in the past, this consultation demarked itself by involving individuals from many different communities.
"What was most significant about this meeting, was the fact that refugees of several nationalities and ethnic groups came together to discuss their concerns," said Vernon. "Not only were there representatives from most of the Myanmar refugee communities, for the first time there were also representation from the Somali and Sri Lankan groups."
"For me, this meeting was a good way of getting to know the representatives of the refugee groups we interact with on a daily basis," said Vernon. "It was also an opportunity for community leaders to voice their concerns to us and share information with other refugee groups."
Sri Lankan refugee Ravindran, a representative from the Society for Displaced Refugees, described the event as being very useful.
"We don't always know if our messages are being passed on to the Representative," he said. "Here is a face to face chance with officials; we know that we're being understood."
These feeling were echoed by L Mya Yin, a community leader from the Organization of Karenni Development. She explained that participating in such a forum made her want to connect with non-Myanmar communities to better understand the larger refugee situation in Malaysia and what else could be done.
"I'm interested in contacting other communities so we can exchange. I wonder if they have the same problems as us? Does RELA cause them as many problems, what do they do to stop it?"
Responding to questions with his customary candidness, Vernon explained that UNHCR was working to improve the conditions of refugees in Malaysia, but that outside factors often prevented a quick resolution of problems.
"We are continuously working to prevent arrests, to regularize status of refugees and to speed up the registration process," said Vernon. "In regard to registration, for example, over 17,000 new cases were registered last year. That's a 23 percent increase over the previous year. We expect the same in 2009."
The UNHCR head concluded by addressing the often contentious subject of resettlement. He explained that UNHCR would pursue all new possibilities to expand the programme, but asked for understanding and patience regarding the likelihood of significant improvements in the short term.
"The reality is that we resettled 6,000 people last year, which is roughly 10 percent of the global resettlement number in 2008," said Vernon. "I would like to be able to say that everyone who wants to be resettled will be. But the reality is that we can't do that. What we can do, however, is work with you and with other partners to help improve your lives while you are here.