The All-Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia on Refugee Policy led by Syerleena Abdul Rashid started off on the right foot when its chairperson raised the need to move away from prescribing policies that criminalise refugees.
The Bukit Bendera MP rightly pointed out that policies should instead be crafted to protect them. This is a positive development.
It is commendable that under its proposed comprehensive policy reforms, the APPGM has priortised the protection of refugees.
In addition, the group gives importance to access to basic services such as healthcare and education, as well as the right to work and contribute to the national economy.
Such measures are vital for the refugees’ collective well-being and economic survival. Their children deserve education for the sake of their future.
Making it legal for them to work would help address the problem of refugees being exploited by their local bosses, particularly in the food industry.
There have been cases of these workers – many of whom do the three D jobs (difficult, dangerous and dirty) – being underpaid or not paid at all for their overtime work.
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That said, we are mindful that in its 2018 electoral promise, Pakatan Harapan declared that refugees’ labour rights “will be at par with locals and this initiative will reduce the country’s need for foreign workers and lower the risk of refugees becoming involved in criminal activities and underground economies”.
But the plan was never implemented even after PH won the general election.
It is obviously unjust to treat refugees like illegal beings as it could stigmatise them and subsequently foster prejudice and even hatred among local communities towards them.
To be sure, these are people who fled countries torn by civil war, inter-ethnic or inter-religious strife, or selective persecution, leaving them in harm’s way. They would not have willingly left the comfort of their beloved homeland had there been basic necessities, protection of human dignity, human rights, security and political stability.
These vulnerable people, especially children and women, deserve protection of their human rights in the country of asylum. There are about 180,000 registered refugees in the country, the majority of whom (over 100,000) are Rohingya. To reinforce the protection of these refugees, the government must officially recognise them as refugees.
Subsequently, the government ought to consider being a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol that defines who a refugee is, and outlines their rights and the international standards of treatment for their protection.
A refugee, according to Article 1 of the 1951 Convention, is someone who “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of (their) nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, or unwilling to avail (themselves) of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of (their) former habitual residence, is unable or owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”.
On their part, refugees are required to conform to the laws and regulations of their country of asylum and respect steps taken for the maintenance of public order.
Hopefully, the measures to enhance the dignity of refugees wil improve their acceptability to locals. Xenophobia should be curbed.
The way we Malaysians treat refugees is a reflection of our worth as human beings. – The Malaysian Insight