UNHCR Stakeholder Meeting highlights the needs and solutions for refugees in the South
Malaysia hosts over 161,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, mainly from Myanmar and other countries such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria. These are persons who have been forced to flee their countries due to war and human right abuses. Refugees live in a very challenging environment in Malaysia. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has been the primary provider of protection for refugees for over 30 years. It has worked closely with a small number of dedicated non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to support the most pressing needs of refugees. Based on the October 2018 statistics, there are 12,688 registered refugees population in Johor. 96% are from Rohingya and 4% from Syria, Palestine, Yemen and Iraq. Of which, 2,947 of them are children.
Recently, UNHCR held a multi-sectoral Stakeholders’ Meeting in Johor to discuss issues pertaining to protection and solutions for refugees living in the southern region of Malaysia, and explore opportunities for new collaboration and cooperation.
“For many years, civil society groups and refugee communities in the southern states of Malaysia have done excellent work in assisting the refugee community living here. But if we really want to help refugees in Malaysia, we have to empower them to look after themselves better. We know that communities that are able to look after themselves are more resilient, more resourceful, and are less of a burden on the hospitality and resources of the host community. If they are allowed to live and work here lawfully, with proper documentation, this will be a ‘win-win’ situation for Malaysia and the refugees. Refugees will be safer and less exploited and Malaysia’s concerns about law, order and security and the economy will be more effectively addressed,” said Richard Towle, UNHCR Representative.
The Stakeholders’ Meeting was attended by over 70 participants comprising Government representatives, NGOs, civil societies, corporate sector, academia and refugee communities. Through this Stakeholders’ Meeting, they hope to expand the network of supporters to include new partners, including private sector and the local government.
Dr. S. Ramakrishnan, the Chairman of Johor Consumerism, Human Resources and Unity Committee said, “It is crucial that we all come together now, because awareness of the importance of individual roles as well as a concerted effort by all stakeholders and the willingness to share the burden will make any intervention and effort more effective and efficient on various levels. It is not just up to UNHCR but all stakeholders from all sectors and walks of life who need to come together to stand in solidarity with the refugees and in finding solutions together. The solutions are to enable refugees to be self-reliant and resilient, to be able to contribute to our local economy and play a role in ensuring the prosperity and continued development of Johor.”
In light of the commitments in the Government’s Manifesto which outlines several areas to strengthen support for refugees, innovative approaches and new areas of cooperation and collaboration can be explored to address both the legitimate interests of Malaysian and the protection need of refugees, in ways that are mutually reinforcing. During the Stakeholders’ meeting, discussions were held around several key thematic areas of livelihoods namely work rights, education, healthcare, child protection, and sexual and gender-based violence as well as protection, including detention.