UNHCR continues supporting Malaysia's national vaccination programme, including in sharing refugee population figures.
With regard to the article published in The Malaysian Insight today on ‘UNHCR to share refugee details for Covid jabs’, UNHCR is deeply disappointed that our response has been incorrectly reflected in the article.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNHCR has cooperated closely with relevant Government bodies and authorities in support of the country’s Covid-19 response, and in recent months, have continued to provide support where needed in the national vaccination programme.
As part of our continued efforts on prevention of detention of refugees and asylum-seekers, while UNHCR advocates with the Malaysian Government to not arrest and detain refugees and asylum-seekers, we did not set this as a condition to cooperation and sharing of refugee population data for the purposes of vaccination planning. In fact as part of the vaccination roll-out planning, for many months now, UNHCR has already been sharing with the Government refugee population data as far as the district level, and providing technical input to the planning where required.
Read our full response to The Malaysian Insight here:
i. UNHCR welcomes the important announcement by the Special Committee on COVID-19 Vaccine Supply (JKJAV) that all foreign citizens will be ensured access to the COVID-19 vaccines at no charge under the National Immunisation Programme.
As a global threat, the COVID-19 response needs to be inclusive, equitable and universal to effectively beat the virus. Barriers to health care and discrimination would create an environment where the ill are not treated, cases go undetected, and the virus spreads.
Inclusive and non-discriminatory policies will only strengthen the response as it is in everyone’s interest that all people, especially the most vulnerable – including refugees, asylum-seekers and the stateless – have access to health services. Safeguarding their health also protects the health of their host communities and societies. It is not in the interest of any community, state or for the world at large to have people falling through the cracks, marginalized, exposed and unprotected.
ii. UNHCR stands ready to continue providing support to the Government of Malaysia in its Covid-19 response, including in the implementation of the Immunisation Programme.
Where the Malaysian Government requires our support, UNHCR is ready to assist in mobilising and reaching out to the refugee and asylum-seeking communities, including through relevant communications efforts and community engagement, and in line with the Ministry of Health vaccine preparedness communications plan. For instance, at the request of the Government, UNHCR provided assistance in translating vaccine information posters and audio files, into 11 languages commonly spoken by refugees. UNHCR is also working with our NGO partners for community engagement & mobilization to support the Ministry of Health’s efforts.
At this early stage, UNHCR, as part of the One UN team being led by UN Resident Coordinator, has been actively participating in planning meetings on the implementation of the Immunisation Programme led by the Government, especially where it affects refugees and asylum-seekers.
As part of the planning process, UNHCR has also shared with the Government refugee population data as far as the district level, and provided technical input to the planning where required. This includes sharing this data with various Ministries, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Health, various State Health Departments, and the Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC).
For the purposes of planning vaccine roll-out - which includes preparing the correct amount of vaccine doses needed for groups within certain areas and identifying the partners with the capacity to carry out the vaccination for this population - the refugee population data that is shared outlines the numbers of refugees above 18 years old, according to gender.
UNHCR has also encouraged refugees to register under the MySejahtera App as that is the main modality for registering them for the National Immunisation Programme.
As seen with Malaysian populations, there are some vulnerable communities – like the elderly and the disabled – who are unable to manage the registration on their own. UNHCR has identified these vulnerable refugees, and working with our NGO partners and refugee community organisations themselves, efforts are underway to provide them assistance in registering under MySejahtera.
iii. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, UNHCR has been coordinating closely with the Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC), Ministries including the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Federal Territories, the Royal Malaysian Police and other related agencies in order to ensure that all refugee and asylum-seeking communities are included in the Government’s national public health response measures. Our efforts are also to prevent infection from spreading among the communities, as well as to provide essential assistance together with a network of more than 30 partners across Peninsular Malaysia.
Since March 2020, some measures we have taken include:
Coordinating and supporting the distribution of food, hygienic items and cash assistance.
Working to ensure that updated information is distributed to refugees quickly and in languages they understand.
Setting up an information portal at www.refugee-malaysia.org , where all refugees, asylum-seekers and organisations supporting refugees can get information on where to find help and services.
During the first MCO, establishing telephone hotlines in eight languages for refugees who may not be able to access the national crisis Hotlines.
Making available UNHCR interpreters to provide translation services at public hospitals for refugees.
iv. As part of our continued efforts on prevention of detention of refugees and asylum-seekers, UNHCR has advocated with the Malaysian Government to not arrest and detain refugees and asylum-seekers, including those with an expired UNHCR document, especially as refugees have not been able to travel to UNHCR due to the restrictions under the MCO, or those in the process of registration with UNHCR and who do not yet have UNHCR documentation.
To this end, UNHCR welcomes the statement by Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin that undocumented foreigners who present themselves for vaccination would not be arrested. To counter the spread of COVID-19, it is paramount that any person on the territory of Malaysia, regardless of their document status, has access to medical attention, testing, and vaccination.