IN a recent statement, the director-general of the National Security Council suggested closing the UNHCR office in Malaysia.
The UNHCR positions itself as the global leader and co-ordinator in refugee settings, with a mandate to safeguard refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide.
The UNHCR has played a huge role in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Malaysia, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The statement made by the director-general indicates a lack of appreciation for the vital contributions made by the UNHCR in the areas of providing protection, assistance and durable solutions for refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.
The UNHCR has cultivated years of experience in developing and ensuring a cohesive and comprehensive framework for refugee co-ordination in Malaysia.
Therefore, it is high time that the government develop a strategic partnership with the UNHCR and not seek to abolish the organisation.
The government must recognise its lack of capacity and expertise in handling the issue and should opt for sharing the burden and responsibility to strengthen its capacity for the protection of refugees in Malaysia. Indeed, the era where ‘government knows best’ is over.
The government must realise this sharing, in addition to international solidarity, is an important part of the international refugee regime.
Such co-operation between the government and the UNHCR is vital to address refugee issues in an effective and coherent way.
With the aim to encourage a co-operative approach between the government and UNHCR, we recommend the following:
- The government and the UNHCR should divide responsibilities according to the expertise of each partner, taking into account available capacity and resources. This will ensure that the collaborative approach is consistent, systematic and predictable.
- Adopt a common strategic framework to address the protection and/or assistance needs of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers in Malaysia.
- The UNHCR can serve as a partner in initiatives or projects involving refugee protection, access to asylum and durable solutions.
- The UNHCR can assist the government in increasing engagement and collaboration with civil society organisations to reach fresh audiences, combat xenophobia and racism, and raise awareness about the positive contributions of refugees to society.
To guarantee that host communities receive the assistance they require and that refugees can live fulfilling lives, the government must opt for a multi-stakeholder approach whereby international organisations and other stakeholders must be involved.
This is in line with Malaysia’s commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), in particular SDG 17: “Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development”.
The government must recognise that equitable responsibility-sharing and international co-operation are necessary to find a long-term solution to the refugee crisis.
With that being said, the UNHCR must continue to play an active role alongside the government in efforts to improve the global humanitarian response capacity. – September 9, 2022.
* Simraat Dhillon is a research and advocacy analyst at Bait Al-Amanah.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.