PETALING JAYA: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has affirmed that it is committed to supporting the transition of responsibility for refugees and asylum seekers to Putrajaya.
Asked for a response to a proposal for the closure of the UNHCR office in Malaysia, the UN agency told FMT it welcomed the government’s continuous engagements and efforts towards resolving issues involving refugee protection.
Yante Ismail, a spokesman for the UNHCR in Kuala Lumpur, said discussions with Putrajaya about a framework of cooperation for managing refugees had been going on for several years through a task force co-chaired by the agency and the foreign ministry.
“This includes issues raised by the National Security Council (MKN) director-general such as data sharing of refugee information, joint registration with the government, screening of asylum seekers, and access to legal work,” she said.
“These discussions have intensified in particular since 2019, with the most recent meeting held earlier this month.”
Yante said refugee protection was primarily the government’s responsibility, but supported by the international community, civil society, the private sector and refugee communities.
In the absence of a national framework, she said, UNHCR had taken on the processes involving refugee protection and assistance on behalf of the government.
“However, as discussed with the government, the UNHCR remains committed to supporting the meaningful and gradual transition of responsibility to the government.
“Global experience has shown that building a national refugee processing system in line with international protection principles takes years and involves extensive consultations and capacity building.
“The positive news is that the government of Malaysia has already begun to take these early steps.”
On Tuesday, MKN director-general Rodzi Md Saad suggested shutting down the UNHCR office in Malaysia to allow Putrajaya to manage refugees in the country without foreign interference.
Rodzi accused the UN agency of issuing UNHCR cards without first referring to Malaysian authorities, saying this was disrespectful.
His remarks drew brickbats from NGOs and opposition lawmakers, and the federal government was asked to state its stand on the UNHCR’s presence in Malaysia.
Yante said the UNHCR had hosted delegations from various ministries and agencies in the past few years to let them observe its processes.
The home ministry recently told UNHCR cardholders in Malaysia to register with its Tracking Refugees Information System (TRIS), which was developed to monitor their whereabouts.
Home minister Hamzah Zainudin said those registered with TRIS would be given ID cards called MyRC, and would be considered for access to healthcare, education, job opportunities and training in construction, manufacturing and several other sectors.–FMT