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PUBLISHED: Jun 6, 2015 9:46pm

Malaysia must sign refugee convention, says UNHCR official

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MICHAEL MURTY By:
Michael Murty

Malaysia's UNHCR representative Richard Towle says Malaysia must have the right laws and regulations to deal with refugees. — Pic credit UNHCR Malaysia

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PETALING JAYA, June 6, 2015:

Malaysia’s United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative Richard Towle said they had tried for many years to get the Malaysian government to sign the refugee convention, but had not been successful yet.

“We feel that by signing it, Malaysia would send a good signal of solidarity with the other 148 countries that have signed it globally.

“We feel that regional solidarity was the key way to deal with refugees. Events of the last few weeks have shown that no nation can deal with this issue alone and that’s why cooperation was essential,” he said at the World Refugee Day event here today.

He said Malaysia must also have the right laws and regulations to deal with refugees.

“At the moment, there is no legal policy and framework to deal with refugees.

“This can be done even without signing the convention.”

He said Malaysia had been doing a lot for refugees for the last 50 years.

“Signing the convention was not the only thing that was needed to be done, but it would provide a good signal.”

He said UNHCR would always want to work more closely with the Malaysian government regarding refugees.

“We have been working with refugees for a long time and we believe that we have a lot to offer the government,” he said, adding that UNHCR was yet to be given access to the people in the Belantik detention centre in Kedah.

“We have been offering our services to the government and for the time being we have yet to be given access.

“We are happy that Malaysia and other countries have at least stopped the ‘push off’ of boat people that approach their countries.

“We now need a regional plan to deal with future occurrences of boat people making their way to these countries.”

The Belantik detention centre in Kedah is the temporary home for the 1,158 Bangladeshis and Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, including women and children, who had landed illegally by boat in Langkawi on May 10.

He said despite the recent tragic news that plagued the nation about refugees and human trafficking victims, Malaysia had a general good spirit for the “support for refugees”.

“I wanted to thank the Malaysian society who has provided a home to these refugees for a little while. Without a place to call home for themselves, people will continue to live in difficult situations and circumstances as we have seen over the news reports for the last two weeks,” he said.

Towle added that the events of the last two weeks had shown Malaysians the horrors that refugees were exposed to and the true spirit of hospitality that lives in Malaysian society.

“If you take politics out, you would see the huge outpouring from fellow Malaysians in support of these refugees.

“This is in fact the theme of World Refugee Week, ‘Refugees are just like us’. They are ordinary people who have escaped extraordinary circumstances.”

He said there were 150,000 refugees living in Malaysia today.

“They are here and living here for decades with the help and support of a small group of very generous non-government organisations (NGOs).

“They don’t live in camps, they live in the city among us. They are schooling and working.”

He said UNHCR had to forge new relationships with governments in order to make things easier for refugees.

“How do we give refugees a hope for a better future?”

Art For Grabs teamed with UNHCR to organise a World Refugee Day event that is being held at The School, Jaya One today and tomorrow.

The initiative celebrates World Refugee Day, two weeks earlier than the June 20 date, and aims to create awareness on issues that have been making the headlines recently as well as the plight of refugees that are already in the country.

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