PETALING JAYA: Human rights activists and the Bar Council want the Government to be a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention before registering asylum-seekers and refugees in the country.
Suhakam commissioner James Nayagam said such a move would put Malaysia on a positive platform in the international scene.
He said the new registration exercise would lower the number of refugee and asylum-seeker arrests as law enforcers could verify their identities quickly.
“It will also help reduce cases of immigrants who enter the country to work but produce fake United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) documents when caught,” he said in an interview yesterday.
He hoped the registration process would be access-friendly for refugees and asylum-seekers and urged the Government to provide them with one-stop centres.
Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee said the registration exercise was a step in the right direction but more needed to be done.
“We need to enact laws to promote and protect internationally-recognised rights of asylum-seekers and their rights to livelihood, healthcare and education,” he said.
“The Prime Minister wants us to be the best democracy, and if this is to be so, then we must demonstrate compassion on how we treat the vulnerable and weak.”
Lim said amendments to laws like the Immigration Act was necessary to recognise the legal status of asylum-seekers.
Amnesty International-Malaysia executive director Nora Murat also said Malaysia should agree to the convention before proceeding with the new registration exercise.
Association for the Promotion of Human Rights president Tan Sri Simon Sipaun said it was ironic that even with the registration, asylum-seekers were not recognised as refugees.
“How can you sign an agreement when you do not recognise them as refugees?” he asked, adding that asylum-seekers would still be treated as illegal immigrants even if they were registered.
Chin Refugee Committee co-ordinator Henry Pin Maunt Shwe said the agreement between the Government and UNHCR was a step in assuring safety of asylum-seekers and refugees.
“When they have registered, they can get a proper job and provide for their family.”