Comprehensive legal and policy framework for Refugees and Asylum Seekers
Tham Hui Ying
Asylum Access Malaysia
2f3 Refugees and undocumented
Problem Statement / Issue:
Malaysia has no legal or administrative framework for the recognition and protection of refugees, and has yet to ratify the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (“Refugee Convention”) or the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Without such a framework, refugees are denied legal protection, and are treated as “illegal immigrants'', subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention, and various rights violations. Without access to legal status, refugees cannot access safety or longer-term stability. Many live in poverty and are unable to access basic rights such as access to justice, healthcare, education, and work. Refugee women and children face heightened risk of violence and exploitation. The impact of living in an unsafe discriminatory environment without opportunity indefinitely - is profound. The lack of a consistent policy on refugees in Malaysia has also enabled the government to violate international human rights obligations including the principle of non-refoulement.
Value(s) and Belief(s):
Refugees have fled life-threatening violence and persecution in their home countries to seek safety from harm and should be afforded protection. Malaysia has international human rights obligations towards refugees which should be incorporated into our domestic legal framework to ensure that they are afforded protection and their rights are upheld.
Proposal of Solution and Call to Action:
1. Government to develop a comprehensive legal and policy framework for the management and protection of all refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia, which includes the right to seek asylum, legal status and the right to stay and enact/amend relevant national laws to incorporate the provisions.
2. Increase cooperation and ensure meaningful engagement with civil society organizations and to create an interagency committee (consisting of both government and key civil society representatives) on governance and protection of refugees. This committee should be formed to make recommendations related to legal and policy reform on refugee protection. They should be accountable and report directly to the Cabinet, who will have the mandate and power to approve any recommendations. Multi-stakeholder technical working groups should then be constituted to address the mechanics of implementation.
3. To exempt all UNHCR-registered refugees and asylum seekers from prosecution and to subsequently release from detention those registered with UNHCR. Then grant temporary legal status to those registered with UNHCR. Enable those currently in detention the right to seek asylum with UNHCR.
4. Ensure accessibility to basic rights such as the right to education and healthcare, right to work, livelihood, housing and access to justice.
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