KUALA LUMPUR, 2 Nov 2004 - The UN refugee agency has welcomed the Malaysian government's decision to grant temporary stay permits to the Rohingya refugee population from Myanmar ahead of an announced crackdown on illegal migrants next year.
"This demonstrates the strong humanitarian commitment of Malaysia and of this government in particular," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said about the recent decision at a news briefing in Geneva on Tuesday. "It will regularise the situation of the refugees who up until now had been tolerated, but were still considered illegal migrants and subject to arrest."
There are an estimated 10,000 Rohingyas in Malaysia, mainly living in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. Many of them arrived during the 1990s after fleeing persecution in Myanmar's North Rakhine state.
Sixty-five Rohingyas have been granted refugee status based on their particularly strong claims. Of the 8,000 registered with UNHCR, more than 7,000 have received temporary protection letters from the refugee agency. The documentation has given them a limited degree of protection, but there have still been reports of harassment.
Rohingya refugee leaders say they are thrilled by news of the temporary stay permits, which comes towards the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. One refugee said this was the biggest gift they could have hoped for.
The new announcement is particularly important as it comes ahead of an announced crackdown by the Malaysian government on illegal migrants in 2005.
"The implementation of this decision is still being prepared within the Malaysian Home Affairs Ministry," noted Redmond. "UNHCR is seeking to find out all the details so that it can inform the Rohingyas and we are ready to assist the authorities in any manner whatsoever to implement this decision."
UNHCR hopes that the new documentation, the details of which are still being worked out, will be issued quickly by the Malaysian government and that all levels of law enforcement agencies in Malaysia will be informed, so the Rohingyas will not be detained.
The refugee agency is also hoping this will open the way for Rohingyas to get education in Malaysia. Because of their uncertain legal status to date, two generations of Rohingyas have been left out of the Malaysian education system.
Story date: 2 November 2004
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