Putrajaya’s refugee registration system not raised with us, says UNHCR

Elill Easwaran

Rohingya refugees wait outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) building in Kuala Lumpur. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, July 28, 2022.

PUTRAJAYA did not raise the Tracking Refugees Information System (TRIS) with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in any of its meetings, said the UN agency.

“The matter of the TRIS registration scheme has not been raised with us in the many constructive meetings held in recent years with the government,” the agency’s head of communications and public information unit, Yante Ismail, told The Malaysian Insight.

She said UNHCR was aware of the TRIS registration scheme initiated by the government of Malaysia in 2017.

“At the time, UNHCR received official confirmation from the government that a third party company had been appointed by the Ministry of Home Affairs to represent the Malaysian government.

“It was asking refugees to register with the government’s TRIS scheme, and pay a certain yearly sum to receive a government-issued special identification card.

“But we are unable to provide any information on the scheme in its current iteration, nor its terms since it was not brought up in any of the meetings,” she said.

Yanti, however, said the UNHCR has been in discussions with the government through the government-initiated Joint Task Force on a variety of issues related to refugee protection in the country.

“These discussions have included data sharing of refugee information, joint registration with the government, screening of asylum-seekers, and access to legal status,” said Yante.

At present, refugees seek legal recognition through their UNHCR refugee card.

On Friday, the government approved the adoption of TRIS for all UNHCR cardholders in Malaysia.

Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin said UNHCR cardholders in the country must register with TRIS to identify their whereabouts and report to the country.

The minister said TRIS could ensure whether the refugees were living in the country for the purpose of employment or were carrying out other intentions, which could then be improved through the policy approved by the National Security Council.

TRIS is Malaysia’s database system on UNHCR cardholders and asylum seekers in addition to updating the management and profile processes along with the data collection, registration, profile storage, analysis, and reporting processes for the government.

Activists disagree with tracking system

Meanwhile, Mahi Ramakrishnan of Beyond Borders said she does not agree with the new tracking system.

“We cannot trust the government, especially the Home Minister who is ‘trigger-happy’ when it comes to immigration raids where refugees and migrant workers end up being detained.

“I am not sure if it’s a way for the government to round refugees up and deport them. We are bound by the non-refoulement principle and I hope the government will respect that,” she said.

Mahi said the government has been engaged in some kind of a tiff with UNHCR and this seemed to be an indirect attempt at forcing them to divulge information about refugees.

“We all know the next general election is around the corner and I wonder if this is a way to fashion the refugees as a security threat, and to show that the government is concerned about the safety of all Malaysians.

“Conversations about forced migrants have always been about securitisation and so I won’t be surprised if this is another ruse,” said Mahi.

Mahi also said the government should consult with all key stakeholders, community orders, civil society organisations, and MPs who work closely with refugees and others.

“A decision to implement TRIS without consultation is arbitrary.”

Meanwhile North-South Initiative executive director Adrian Pereira said Malaysia in general does not have a comprehensive law with the accompanying institutions for the protection of refugees and asylum seekers.

“Hence, such a system is highly questionable as it was not designed in consultation with civil society and the refugee community.

“Even worse, to even suggest the need for tracking vilifies the whole community,” said Adrian.

According to Adrian, refugees are very worried about why such a system is needed as they already experience various abuses daily in Malaysia.

“This mechanism would be seen as another avenue for more abuses to happen.

“They are also very worried about data security and what would happen if there was a leak,” he said.

He said the government should just let UNHCR do its job.

“The government needs to ensure it has a legal framework that is transparent and comprehensive to ensure the protection of refugees and asylum seekers.”

According to UNHCR, as of February 2022, there are 181,800 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the agency in Malaysia.

UNHCR said 86% of asylum seekers are from Myanmar, while the remaining are 25,990 refugees and asylum seekers from 50 countries fleeing war and persecution.

This, it said, includes those from Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan and others. – July 28, 2022.

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