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KUALA LUMPUR: A group of bipartisan Members of Parliament today urged the government to reform policies to better protect refugees in Malaysia, especially women and children.

Speaking on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia (APPGM), Syerleena Abdul Rashid (PH-Bukit Bendera) said it is vital for Malaysia to protect the welfare of women and child refugees as they are most vulnerable to exploitation which includes sexual exploits, domestic violence, gender-based violence and human trafficking.

Moreover, she said refugees have to be granted just access to their basic fundamental rights such as education, healthcare, nutritious meals and psycho-social services.

“The time has come for Malaysia to move away from policies that criminalise refugees and instead develop policies that both protect and allow refugees to contribute to society and the economy,” she told a press conference at the Parliament lobby today.

Syarleena said responsibilities and efforts to protect refugees should be shared by all, regardless of political differences.

“When it comes to human rights, we have to put our political differences aside and do our best for all without prejudice,” she said, adding that there are currently approximately 185,000 refugees in Malaysia.

In the same press conference, Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah (PN-Indera Mahkota) said in order for any policy changes to be realised, progressive amendments to the National Security Council’s (MKN) Directive No. 23 should be made beforehand.

The former Foreign Minister said a paradigm shift by MKN which acts as the leading agency in regards to national security, would ease the process of policy making by related agencies and ministries to better protect refugees.

“APPGM hopes changes to Directive No. 23 will be able to show a better way on how we should manage refugees in Malaysia than what is done today,“ he said.

Meanwhile, Ahmad Tarmizi Sulaiman (PN-Sik) said APPGM had proposed to the government to look into frameworks to ensure the wellbeing of women and children in immigration holding depots as well as to house them in separate housing or holding areas for their safety.

“APPGM also wants the Ministry of Education to see how refugee children who do not go to school can manage their schooling through joint ventures of non-governmental organisations or welfare organisations and private institutions,“ he said. - Bernama