SUHAKAM, UNHCR renew commitment to promote and protect refugee rights
Kuala Lumpur, 12 July 2021 - The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR and the Malaysian Human Rights Commission, SUHAKAM, today reiterated their strong commitment to continued collaboration in advancing the promotion and protection of the rights of asylum-seekers, refugees, and stateless persons in the country.
This was formalised through the signing of a second Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the period of 2021 - 2024, following the successful conclusion of the first multi-year MoU which was signed in 2017.
During the online signing ceremony, SUHAKAM Chairman Tan Sri Othman Hashim remarked on the complementary nature of the work of the two organisations in strengthening the rights and welfare of refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless persons, and people at risk of statelessness.
“Refugees and asylum seekers are often denied rights, including equality before the law. Rights to work, rights to education, rights to healthcare, and (they are) also vulnerable to arbitrary treatment and crimes like human trafficking,” said Tan Sri Othman.
“The MoU will provide a framework for further collaboration between the two organisations. We envisage the cooperation would include advocating for the development and implementation of domestic, legislative, and administrative frameworks for the protection of the rights of asylum seekers and refugees,” said Tan Sri Othman.
“The advocacy (efforts) seeks to regularize their stay and their rights to work in Malaysia, as well as access to healthcare, and education and other state social services. Both parties on their respective front will undertake to engage and advise the government to put to an end their detention of refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons for immigration related reasons and to establish alternative arrangements, particularly for children and women.”
There are currently nearly 180,000 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia. Under this renewed agreement, in addition to improving the situation for this population, both organisations will jointly work on heightening collaboration with Government ministries and agencies, as well as civil society.
“This year marks the 70th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. While many things have evolved since, it remains clear that refugee protection is a joint and shared responsibility,” said Thomas Albrecht, UNHCR Representative.
“The cooperation between SUHAKAM and UNHCR is extremely important at this critical juncture. Particularly in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic which is not only an unparalleled public health crisis, but a socio-economic and protection crisis in which human rights and refugee rights are coming under increasing scrutiny and attack from rising xenophobia, the closure of borders, and the inviolability of asylum being increasingly questioned and eroded.”
According to Albrecht, UNHCR and SUHAKAM have had a long history spanning many years, of jointly addressing refugee protection in the country, including through advocacy and capacity-building activities with both Governmental and non-governmental stakeholders on matters relating to the protection of refugees, alternatives to detention and detention conditions.
“One such example, was the dialogue sessions on human rights and immigration detention standards that were delivered to over 200 immigration officers across 11 immigration detention centres nationwide in 2018,” said Albrecht. “These joint activities illustrate a concerted effort to promote human rights and preserve Malaysia’s long-standing humanitarian tradition towards individuals seeking asylum.”
“UNHCR remains committed to upholding refugee protection and improving the lives of refugees not only in Malaysia but globally. In Malaysia, we wholeheartedly believe that we cannot do this alone and SUHAKAM is a trusted partner with whom we can embark on the journey to eventually arrive at a destination where refugees rights are respected and where they can live in safety and dignity.”