A refugee is one who is displaced or who has opted to flee their native homeland. This is normally due to civil unrest, armed conflict, racial and religious persecution, or expulsion either by the state or hostile agents.
Displaced persons typically arrive in Malaysia as ‘asylum seekers.’ They usually register with the UNHCR as persons of concern. Through a lengthy process of refugee status determination (RSD) these asylum seekers are then officially recognised as refugees requiring protection under international, regional or national law.
RSD often takes between 2 and 4 years. Once they are officially registered as refugees, there is a further waiting period between 3 and 5 years, – even longer for some – before being accepted for resettlement by a 3rd country. Not all applicants pass UNHCR’s stringent refugee assessments. Rejected applicants are allowed one final appeal and if turned down again, they no longer come under UNHCR protection as persons of concern. Rejected applicants are usually advised to go back to their country of origin.
Since Malaysian law classifies asylum seekers and refugees as undocumented migrants, they are subject to prosecution, detention and deportation. Regrettably, this often applies to refugees with an official UNHCR card or even persons-of-concern papers. They are also forbidden by law to work while access to education and health care is denied or restrictive due to prohibitive costs. This unfortunate reality makes our refugees and undocumented migrants among the most vulnerable persons in our country.