GEORGE TOWN: Proper policies and laws, not new refugee identity cards, are needed to resolve the refugee issue in the country, a human rights activist said.
Elise Arya Chen said if better policies and laws were in place, Malaysia could offer an avenue for refugees to claim asylum legally.
Doing so, she said, would help differentiate refugees from undocumented economic migrants who were here for a job.
“The proposed new ID card is only reasonable if it takes into account the basic human rights of these people seeking safe refuge from war, conflict and disaster,” Chen told FMT.
Last week, home minister Hamzah Zainudin said a special refugee card would be issued to ascertain if any refugee could remain in the country or not.
According to UNHCR, 181,800 refugees and asylum seekers were registered in the country as of February.
Chen said whether the government should issue refugee identity cards depended on its purpose and principles.
She said the earlier MyRC, or Malaysian refugee card system, was made available to refugees at the cost of RM500 a year but offered no legal protection to them.
If the new card recognised their refugee status and was backed by law, it might be better than the MyRC, she said.
The MyRC card is compulsory for every refugee and asylum seeker in the country, with biometric data and personal details supplied to police, immigration and the National Security Council.
“The new ID cards should not be primarily used for surveillance and tracking, nor charged at excessive annual rates,” she said.
“It’s worth remembering that the UNHCR card provides opportunities for resettlement that a Malaysian government-issued ID cannot.
“Thus, it wouldn’t be the most feasible or rational move to do away with UNHCR registration if the government is keen on enabling refugees to leave the country and resettle legally.”
Chen said the government should work with human rights groups to formulate better policies regarding refugees.
“While understanding that the government often feels antagonised by NGOs and vice versa, I firmly believe that at the end of the day, both sides have the same ideals, albeit with a different order of priorities.
“Also, alienating and scapegoating the refugee and asylum seeker community only creates additional issues and challenges, from unregulated economic activity to endless illegal exploitation and human rights violations,” she said.
North-South Initiative’s Adrian Pereira said UNHCR remained the best to handle refugee registrations and resettlement.
He said introducing new ID cards would be futile as it was a duplication of roles, with the UN agency already playing the role of registrar.
Pereira said the home ministry should consult refugee community leaders to see what could be done to help them.
“We hope the new mechanism would be discussed with the UN, as the country is a human rights council member,” he said.