Put Refugees to Work in Developing Malaysian Economy

KUALA LUMPUR, 13 June 2005 - Malaysia's foreign labour shortage following Ops Tegas could be met by allowing refugees to work. Malaysia is now urgently seeking ways to solve a national labour shortage that is already having an effect on growth prospects for this year, after the reported expulsion of more than 100,000 foreign workers in recent months. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) proposes putting refugees to work as one answer.

"It may be in the long-term humanitarian, security and economic interest of Malaysia to allow the estimated 50,000 refugees here in the country to enter the job market as readily available foreign labour," said Dr Volker Türk, UNHCR Representative.

The issue of employment for refugees is part of discussions at a roundtable conference on Migration and Refugee Issues, organised by UNHCR which had been opened by Malaysian scholar, Professor K.S Jomo, who is now the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, here today.

The Roundtable is UNHCR's contribution towards encouraging constructive debate at the national and regional levels on issues related to the contemporary migration movements in Southeast Asia, the implications for Malaysia and the region, and the need for regional cooperation on migration matters.

"Our particular concern is the issue of forced displacement, which is a general term used to describe the movements of people forced to leave their homes, sometimes across international borders, due to many reasons such as conflict. Refugees and asylum-seekers are an important part of this group," said Dr Türk.

"Unlike economic migrants, refugees do not enjoy the protection of their home countries and cannot return home. But most of them are skilled and hard working, and can contribute enormously towards the country's development as foreign labour if given the opportunity. Hundreds of Malaysian employers have phoned UNHCR over recent months to inquire about employing refugees."

In April this year, the Malaysian Government was reported as saying that it would issue temporary stay permits to the Rohingyas that would enable them to work legally, and access education and healthcare.

"We support, and anxiously await the implementation of the Government's decision, and we hope it will be extended to all refugees in the country," said Dr Türk. "The implementation of this decision will be somewhat of a precedent in the region in that a pragmatic, humanitarian and security-conscious response would be provided to an existing refugee population. It takes account of social realities on the ground, which exist, and which are better tackled than ignored.

"We harbour hopes that this decision will be implemented by World Refugee Day on 20 June. That would be the best gift for all the refugees here."

As of end May 2005, there are some 40,000 refugees registered with UNHCR in Malaysia. Approximately 20,000 are Acehnese from the Indonesian Province of Aceh, while some 10,000 are Rohingyas from the Northern Rakhine State in Myanmar. The remaining 10,000 are other ethnic minorities from Myanmar and from other countries.

World Refugee Day is a salute to the indomitable spirit and courage of the world's refugees, which is celebrated every year on 20 June. In 2005, World Refugee Day will focus on the theme of ‘Courage', to celebrate the courage and perseverance of refugees who have lost everything, yet remain positive in their will to rebuild their lives.

To commemorate World Refugee Day 2005, UNHCR in Malaysia will organise a series of events, beginning with today's Roundtable on Migration and refugee issues. Other events will be:

  1. Launch of the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Handbook for Parliamentarians on International Refugee Law, published by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UNHCR. Jointly organised by UNHCR and the office of Dato' Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department. The ceremony will take place on Tuesday, 21 June 2005, at 2.00noon, at the Parliament Building. Dato Seri Nazri will officially launch the publication.

  2. Photo essay installation on refugees - UNHCR collaborated with photographer Bernice Chauly to capture the stories of refugees in Malaysia through their portraits. This project aims to put a human face to the refugee statistics in Malaysia, and create greater compassion and understanding among Malaysians on the lives of refugees in this country. This will be officially launched on Monday, 11 July 2005 at the KL Performance Art Center. Time to be confirmed.




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