KUALA LUMPUR, April 30 – The government does not recognise the refugee status of any groups, including the Rohingyas, even if they are United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) card holders, said Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin.
He said that such groups were, instead, classified as illegal immigrants (PATI).
Malaysia is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, thus it has no legal or administrative framework governing refugee status and rights in the country.
“However, the government has, on humanitarian grounds, allowed those with the UNHCR card to stay temporarily in the country before being placed in a third country by the UNHCR on a case-by-case basis,” he said in a statement regarding the status of ethnic Rohingya refugees in the country.
According to him, as of March this year, there were 179,521 UNHCR card holders living temporarily in Malaysia and out of that, 101,584 (56.6 percent) are ethnic Rohingyas.
Meanwhile, Hamzah said that based on a review by the Home Ministry, it was found that the National Registration Department (NRD) had never registered any Rohingya association in the country.
As such, he said, any association representing ethnic Rohingyas in Malaysia was illegal under the Societies Act 1966 (Act 335) and legal action can be taken against them.
“Therefore, ethnic Rohingyas who are UNHCR card holders do not have the status, rights and basis to demand anything from the government,” he said.
He said the Home Ministry, through its departments and agencies, remained committed to ensuring public order was maintained and any action by UNHCR card holders that could undermine public order and in violation of the country’s laws would not be tolerated.
Hamzah said that during the Movement Control Order (MCO), enforced to curb the spread of COVID-19, the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) have received 19 reports against ethnic Rohingyas who are UNHCR card holders and four investigation papers have been opened.
Apart from that, two Myanmar boat skippers are set to be charged in court for allegedly being involved in a syndicate smuggling in illegal immigrants holding UNHCR cards into the country, he said.
Commenting on the decision by Malaysian authorities not to allow a boat carrying ethnic Rohingyas enter the country’s waters on April 17, he stressed that it was done in accordance with the law to protect the country’s sovereignty.
However, on humanitarian grounds, Malaysian authorities distributed food supplies to them before escorting the boat out of the country’s waters.
Hamzah said the move to tighten borders, including backdoor routes, to prevent intrusions by illegal immigrants was in line with the government’s measures to close all entry points to foreigners in a bid to break the chain of COVID-19 transmissions.
“The Home Ministry wants to emphasise that the authorities will always be prepared to prevent any intrusions on its borders and territorial waters,” he said, before reminding illegal immigrants holding UNHCR cards to continue to respect and obey the laws of this country.