Anxious Rohingya refugees from Myanmar waiting for news on their temporary stay permits at UNHCR's Kuala Lumpur office.
KUALA LUMPUR, 10 Dec 2004 - The UN refugee agency is stepping up efforts to protect 28,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia ahead of an expected crackdown on illegal migrants early next year.
On Monday, UNHCR will start sending mobile registration teams to jungle camps outside the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, in order to provide documentation to hundreds of people of concern to the agency. These asylum seekers have been living in makeshift huts in the jungle, afraid to venture out to seek UNHCR assistance for fear of being arrested and detained by law enforcement agencies.
The refugee agency has already completed a mobile registration exercise for more than 600 refugees from Indonesia's Aceh province on western Malaysia's Penang island, and plans to send mobile teams to other parts of the country where asylum seekers are known to be living in dire conditions but unable to contact UNHCR directly for registration.
Meanwhile, UNHCR continues to press the Malaysian government to issue temporary stay permits to 10,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, as promised in a welcome humanitarian gesture in November. These permits could not only protect them from the crackdown on illegal migrants, but also grant them access to education and health care.
A minister from the Prime Minister's Department has officially told UNHCR that the policy decision on the Rohingyas has been taken and is now just a question of implementation.
"However, conflicting comments this week by Malaysian government ministers over whether a final decision on this group has been made, is creating great anxiety amongst the Rohingyas," said UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis at a news briefing in Geneva on Friday.
"We believe the government will not backtrack on its announced commitment, but consider that a quick implementation of the new policy will be in the best interests of the refugees, allaying their fears and providing protection ahead of the crackdown," she added.
No date has yet been set for the clampdown on illegal migrants, but it is expected to take place early next year. UNHCR has welcomed assurances by the highest levels of the Malaysian government that people of concern to the agency will not be affected by the impending operation, which involves bounties and a 500,000-strong volunteer corps working with law enforcement agencies.
Story date: 10 December 2004
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