Concerns over arrest of UNHCR card holders

15 Dec 2014 / 21:39 H.

    PETALING JAYA: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is concerned over the arrests of UNHCR card holders in the country for various Immigration-related offences.
    UNHCR External Relations officer Yante Ismail said these card holders are at risk of being arrested by the authorities as currently there are no domestic laws that can make a distinction between refugees and undocumented migrants.
    She said they will intervene with the authorities whenever the registered refugees are arrested for various Immigration-related offences to advocate their release.
    According to UNHCR statistics, there are over 150,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in the country from countries such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Somalia and Pakistan.
    In an immediate response, an Immigration Department spokesman did not deny that Malaysia lacks a legislative and administrative framework to address refugee matters, adding that all of the refugees are allowed to stay in the country only with the government's compassion.
    However, he refuted the allegation of UNHCR card holders being arrested saying that it is always their standard operating procedure not to arrest registered refugees.
    "Even if we (mistakenly) detain the refugees, we will check with the UNHCR to find out whether the card is valid or not, if it is valid, then we let them go," the spokesman told theSun.
    Meanwhile, in the event of detained unregistered asylum-seekers or refugees for immigration-related charges, Yante said they will try to consult with the authority for confirmation.
    "We will seek access to them in the immigration detention facilities to verify their (illegal asylum seekers or refugees) status and to advocate for their release if they are found to be in need of international protection," added Yante.
    She pointed out that they had numerous discussions with the government on issues pertaining to refugees' protection, such as strengthening the security features of the UNHCR documentation and improving recognition of refugee cards by the authorities.
    "UNHCR believes that through close cooperation with the government, refugee issues can be managed in a way that satisfies the legitimate concerns of the government of security and law and order, while also providing humanitarian protection to those most in need," she said.
    In order to curb the forgery of the card, she said UNHCR is currently reviewing the features of these cards to include the highest level of biometrics security in line with international practice.

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