The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has offered the Malaysian government support and expertise to help deal with the ongoing migrant humanitarian crisis in the region, while urging the country to pay particular attention to the plight of the Rohingyas.
In a statement issued on Monday (May 18), the UN refugee agency said that it is offering its "expertise in interviewing the different groups to determine who are in need of international protection, and who are not".
More than 1,100 migrants landed on Malaysia's Langkawi island just over a week ago and are now being held at Immigrant Department detention centres. They were allegedly dumped near Langkawi's shores by people smugglers, amid a crackdown on human trafficking camps in the jungles of Thailand.
Most of them are from Bangladesh, but UNHCR said its concern is for the "relatively small number of Rohingyas from Myanmar in the group, who are likely to need international protection and cannot be returned to Myanmar".
On Sunday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said his government was liaising with Myanmar to deal with the "humanitarian catastrophe". On Monday, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia agreed to meet in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday to tackle the crisis, which began when boats filled with hundreds of migrants were left drifting in the region, after a recent crackdown on human trafficking camps in Thailand.
Malaysia, which says it has already taken in 120,000 illegal migrants from Myanmar, has made it clear that it wants no more and would push back migrant boats.
The UNHCR statement is as follows:
UNHCR is deeply concerned about the continuing humanitarian crisis involving the arrival of boats to Malaysia and other countries in the region, carrying Rohingyas from Myanmar and Bangladeshi nationals.
Over the last week, alarming unconfirmed reports emerged suggesting that boats carrying vulnerable people from Myanmar and Bangladesh have been pushed away, raising concern for the welfare of the men, women, and children on board who may be in need of urgent medical and welfare assistance.
UNHCR is appreciative that over 1,100 persons have been permitted to disembark on Malaysian territory, and are now being held at the Immigration Department detention centres.
UNHCR has offered its assistance to the Government in its efforts to support those arrived. This includes medical and other provisions, and technical advice on how to process the group.
UNHCR has also offered its expertise in interviewing the different groups to determine who are in need of international protection, and who are not, as those being rescued are likely to be a mix of refugees and economic migrants.
UNHCR understands that the group includes some 700 persons from Bangladesh who may not need refugee protection and who, with the cooperation of their Government, may be able to return home without delay.
UNHCR’s concern is for the relatively small number of Rohingyas from Myanmar in the group, who are likely to need international protection and cannot be returned to Myanmar.
At this time, UNHCR has not received a formal response from the Government asking it to participate in any operational way, but stands ready to do so if required.
As it has done for many years, UNHCR will support the Malaysian Government in conducting all matters related to the processing of refugees, including registration and status determination, and providing welfare assistance including health, education, and other social support. Since 2005, UNHCR has facilitated the resettlement of over 100,000 refugees from Malaysia to third countries. It stands ready to continue supporting the Malaysian Government in managing this current humanitarian crisis.
Clearly, this serious humanitarian crisis requires a comprehensive regional response, which UNHCR fully support. Efforts must be directed towards finding and disrupting the networks of unscrupulous smuggling and trafficking agents, and also to giving life-saving support to their victims at sea.