The government is considering entering into an agreement with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) regarding the commission's role and responsibilities towards refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said in a statement after chairing a meeting of the high-level committee on the management of refugees and asylum seekers in Putrajaya yesterday that the agreement with UNHCR over the matter was in line with Resolution 428 (V) UN General Assembly (1950).
"UNHCR needs to carry out its responsibilities towards refugees and asylum seekers who are in the country in accordance with the mandate and functions of its establishment and not place the burden of refugee management solely on the government or the local community," he said.
While acknowledging that Malaysia was not a member country of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees or the 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees, Zahid said the government respected the mandate of the establishment, functions and roles of UNHCR as provided under Resolution 319 (IV) of the UN General Assembly (1949) and Resolution 428 (V) UN General Assembly (1950).
"Based on the principles of humanity, the government has allowed this group (refugees and asylum seekers) to stay temporarily in the country before being resettled in another country or returned to their country of origin," he said.
Zahid said the government was concerned over the presence of a few groups of refugees and asylum seekers who carried out activities that were contrary to local norms, sensitivities and culture, causing uneasiness among the locals.
He said the government was also very concerned about the increase in the number of refugees and asylum seekers holding UNHCR cards in Malaysia, from 75,617 people in 2009 to 185,760 in March this year.
A total of 160,332 people or 86.3% of all refugees and asylum seekers are from Myanmar, of which 107,433 are from the Rohingya ethnic group.
Refugees from other countries with significant numbers are Pakistan with 7,109 people, Yemen (3,466), Afghanistan (3,444), Somalia (3,161) and Syria (3,161).
Zahid said the meeting also took note of UNHCR's act of registering 948 people who claimed to be refugees from Indonesia, with the reasons given including that they had married other refugees in Malaysia, even though it Indonesia was not experiencing any humanitarian crisis.
Zahid said the government would emphasise planning and efforts to strengthen the management of refugees and asylum seekers through four main improvement clusters.
Among them is a mechanism for managing refugees and asylum seekers through the establishment of committees and special task forces, as well as an increase in the capacity and involvement of government agencies in determining the status of refugees.
He said the government would not compromise but take strict action against citizens or non-citizens found to be conspiring with human trafficking agents to smuggle refugees and asylum seekers into Malaysia.