Malaysia: Latest migrant arrests include UNHCR cardholders

Briefing Notes, 30 January 2007

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 30 January 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Malaysia, we are concerned that over the weekend, as part of a general crackdown on undocumented migrants, some 45 Myanmar nationals holding UNHCR documents were arrested near the administrative capital of Putrajaya, and then detained. Despite quickly despatching our team to the site to help the authorities verify the identities of those of concern to us, and in line with normal practice to ensure their release, they were taken to Lenggeng Immigration Detention Centre. We are now working with the authorities on their release.

Generally, the Malaysian authorities, aware of the humanitarian situation and vulnerability of people of concern to UNHCR, have refrained from arresting or detaining people with our cards. But, in the last couple of months there has been a new development where persons carrying UNHCR cards have also been arrested during these immigration raids. In December, 90 UNHCR card holders were arrested, and already this month 70 have been arrested.

We hope this recent trend will quickly be reversed and the authorities will continue to uphold their humanitarian commitment to refugees.

There are some 46,000 persons of concern registered with UNHCR in Malaysia including 15,000 from the Indonesian Province of Aceh, 12,000 Rohingyas from the Northern Rakhine State of Myanmar, 16,000 other ethnic minorities from Myanmar, such as the Chins and Myanmar Muslims and the remaining numbers from various other countries.




UNHCR country pages

Malaysia: Refugees helping themselves

Many Malaysians are astonished to learn that there are refugees living in their country. That's how invisible most of the 67,800 refugees in Malaysian towns and cities are. They don't live in camps, but in low-cost flats and houses alongside the homes of Malaysians. The refugees, overwhelmingly from Myanmar, live in tight-knit groups with as many as 20 or 30 people in one small flat.

As in many other Asian countries, even official UNHCR refugee status does not always afford adequate protection. Refugees are not allowed to work legally, so are subject to exploitation in dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs that locals do not want.

More than in many other countries, refugees in Malaysia have banded together to help themselves in the absence of official services. UNHCR, non-governmental organizations and volunteers support these initiatives, which include small crafts businesses, as well as schools and clinics, but they are largely driven by the refugees themselves.

Malaysia: Refugees helping themselves

Surviving in the City: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Play video

Surviving in the City: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Malaysia is a largely urban country, with 60 per cent of the population living in cities. Life for a refugee in Kuala Lumpur is challenging. Refugees cannot work legally and most live in fear of detention, despite having received a refugee card from UNHCR.