Malaysia urged by UN agency to protect refugees in crackdown on migrants

4 March 2005

The United Nations refugee agency today urged Malaysia to continue demonstrating a strong humanitarian commitment in its crackdown on tens of thousands of illegal migrants and strongly denied charges that it had issued protection letters indiscriminately ahead of the move.

The United Nations refugee agency today urged Malaysia to continue demonstrating a strong humanitarian commitment in its crackdown on tens of thousands of illegal migrants and strongly denied charges that it had issued protection letters indiscriminately ahead of the move.

“We have stringent procedures in place for registration, verification, interviewing and then determination of refugee status,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva on the fourth day of the crackdown.

“This ensures that only people who require international protection by the international community are documented by UNHCR,” he added of media reports that the Government would take action against illegal migrants even if they carried UNHCR documentation. Other press reports claimed UNHCR had been issuing refugee protection letters “indiscriminately” ahead of the crackdown.

According to latest reports, more than a dozen people with UNHCR documentation, mainly Acehnese from Indonesia and Chins, an ethnic minority from Myanmar, have been arrested in the round-up and sent to immigration detention centres.

“We swiftly responded by sending UNHCR staff to the centres to ensure the refugees are not deported. We hope the authorities will release them shortly,” Mr. Redmond said, adding that the agency was aware – and concerned – that false documents are in circulation, but measures have already been taken to deal with the situation.

For several weeks UNHCR has been voicing concern that some 35,000 people of interest, including ethnic groups from Myanmar, people fleeing from Indonesia’s Aceh province and Cambodians, could be caught up in the crackdown that seeks to round up an estimated 400,000 illegal workers and their employers.

“We continue to appeal to all officials involved in the crackdown to respect people registered and documented by UNHCR and to refrain from taking any action against groups of concern to the UN refugee agency,” Mr. Redmond stressed.

Earlier in the week, the agency said it had been encouraged to see press reports quoting the Malaysian Home Minister as saying foreigners who cannot return home due to political pressures should be allowed to remain in the country and permitted to work.

“UNHCR would see this as a genuine gesture by the Malaysian Government to protect persons of concern to UNHCR,” Mr. Redmond noted.

 

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