UNHCR to share refugee details for Covid jabs

Elill Easwaran

Refugees study during a teaching initiative in Selayang, Kuala Lumpur. The UNHCR says it will co-operate with the government about giving details of refugees and asylum seekers for Covid-19 jabs, as long as it receives reassurances they will not be rounded up for deportation. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, June 15, 2021.

THE United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will share refugee details for Covid-19 vaccinations and hopes the authorities will not arrest refugees.

UNHCR public health official Dr Susheela Balasundaram said the agency was ready to play its role in ensuring that all refugees and asylum seekers are vaccinated against Covid-19.

“UNHCR has asked the government to not arrest and detain refugees and asylum-seekers, including those with an expired UNHCR document,” she told The Malaysian Insight in reference to a call by Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin for the agency to hand over information on refugees living in the country, supposedly for their Covid-19 vaccination.

Hamzah said at present there were 178,715 UNHCR cardholders but there was no further information on where they were located.

“If the UNHCR can provide us with detailed information, it will facilitate the government’s effort to achieve herd immunity to contain the spread of Covid-19,” he said last week.

Hamzah has come under severe criticism for heading a crackdown on undocumented migrants, including refugees, during the lockdown, which has been extended to June 28.

He was also accused of contradicting National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme Coordinating Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who said previously that migrants would not be hunted down or arrested when they came forward for the vaccination.

However, Hamzah later said his push to round up undocumented migrants during the total lockdown was aimed at helping them get vaccinated against Covid-19.

He also said the ministry has identified almost 2.5 million foreigners nationwide – in possession of documents issued by the government or third parties such as UNHCR, including prisoners and Immigration detainees – for Covid-19 vaccination.

Susheela also said the UNHCR would assist the vaccine rollout by reaching out to refugees and asylum-seekers.

“The UNHCR is ready to assist in mobilising and reaching out to the refugee and asylum-seeking communities,” she said.

She said the body was already providing assistance to the government in translating vaccine information posters and audio files into 11 languages commonly spoken by refugees.

“The UNHCR has also been actively participating in planning meetings on the implementation of the immunisation programme led by the government, especially where it affects refugees and asylum-seekers.”

She added that the agency has also shared data with the government about the refugee population.

“This includes sharing them with various ministries, including the Foreign and Health Ministries, various state health departments, and the Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre,” she said.

She also urged refugees to register using the MySejahtera app so that they can be contacted for immunisation.

She added that refugees have not been able to travel to the UNHCR due to the nationwide lockdown. – June 15, 2021.

Editor’s note: This report has been amended to correct an earlier error stating UNHCR would only share information if the authorities guaranteed there would be no arrests of refugees.

Sign up or sign in here to comment.