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Solutions needed for refugees

Graphic: Young boy

State authorities must adopt a humane approach and consider Malaysia’s obligations under human rights treaties, SUHAKAM's Chairperson said.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (the Commission) refers to recent media reports concerning the arrival of several thousand victims of human trafficking, asylum seekers and/or migrants, including women and children to Malaysian shores, seeking protection.

The Commission appreciates that the authorities have a duty to enforce Malaysia's strict immigration policies in maintaining national security. This includes taking steps to defend our borders from unauthorised arrivals.

However, the Commission is of the opinion that in so doing, the authorities must adopt a humane approach and be guided by, among others, Malaysia's responsibilities and obligations as contained in international human rights treaties, particularly those accepted by Malaysia – such the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – which apply regardless of nationality or immigration status.

Furthermore, it is internationally accepted that the Convention on the Rights of the Child demands that migrant / refugee children be seen and protected first as children, and imposes an obligation on State parties to ensure that the best interests of the child is a primary consideration in all actions concerning children.

The Commission is concerned that despite being a long-standing issue, there are no firm solutions in place for refugees and asylum seekers.

There is therefore an imperative need for a comprehensive approach to deal with the problem, addressing the root causes and other contributory factors with a view to safeguarding the basic human rights of this vulnerable group.

As the current Chairman of ASEAN that is advocating a people-centred approach towards realising an ASEAN Community in 2016, Malaysia is well-placed and should assume a leadership role to push for a regional approach in dealing with the refugee issue involving all ASEAN member States.

At the same time Malaysia, as a responsible member of the United Nations with important regional and international roles, should seriously consider joining the ranks of countries that have endorsed the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.

This would place the Government's cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on a firmer footing in dealing with the issue than the existing ad-hoc arrangement.

While recognising the Government's cooperation with the UNHCR, the Commission hopes that individuals in need of genuine protection such as refugees, abused and persecuted migrants and victims of trafficking will be screened and accorded the necessary protection.

Date: 14 May 2015

Source: Human Rights Commission of Malaysia

Image credits

  1. Young boy - Steve Gumaer, Flickr Creative Commons