REFUGEES IN MALAYSIA

MALAYSIA WON'T RECOGNIZE REFUGEES

Refugees and internally displaced persons: refugees (country of origin): 81,146 (Burma) (2011).

In March 2007, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Malaysia, out of economic reasons, will not recognize refugees. Xinhua reported: “Syed said his country rejects refugees because it does not want to open the floodgates to illegal migrant workers, adding there is no political element involved in its stance. "The European Union does the same thing. It doesn't allow migrants in for economic reasons. So there is nothing political in our stand," Syed was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times. The foreign minister explained it would be difficult to tell a political refugee from an economic migrant and if many migrants flood to Malaysia for economic reasons, it will be a burden to the country. [Source: Xinhua, March 9, 2007]

Syed made the remarks in response to comments by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Malaysia called on Malaysia to stop thinking of refugees as migrants and criminals. "In the first place, we never treated them as criminals. They are illegal immigrants as they don't have proper documents. This is different from being a criminal," said the Malaysian foreign minister.

See Separate Article FOREIGN WORKERS IN MALAYSIA

Refugees Try to Get to Australia Via Malaysia

An increasing number of people from those impoverished countries pay human smugglers to transport them to Australia via Indonesia, using Malaysia as a starting point for the sea journey. It On ships bound for Indonesia's Sumatra island, Pakistani and Afghan passengers pay $1,300 each to agents in Malaysia for the trip. [Source: AP, June 29, 2009]

In June 2009, Malaysian authorities intercepted five boats and detained more than 50 people, mostly Afghans and Pakistanis, as they tried to sneak out of the country and sail to neighboring Indonesia. Associated Press reported: “ Authorities stopped four small boats, ferrying 15 Afghans, six Pakistanis and 11 Indonesians, on a river in central Selangor state, said Marzuki Ismail, the state's marine police chief. They were apparently planning to transfer to a bigger boat, which was caught with 21 Afghans already on board, said Marzuki.

Marzuki said the Afghans and Pakistanis had flown into Malaysia with valid travel documents about a week earlier. They were detained for allegedly trying to leave Malaysia illegally, which is punishable by up to five years in prison. Earlier, more than 100 Afghans, Pakistanis and Iraqis who had entered Malaysia legally have been caught embarking on rickety and overcrowded boats for Indonesia en route to Australia. Several boats have sunk, killing more than a dozen people.

Malaysia has stepped up sea patrols but authorities say it is difficult to control the long coastline. Australian authorities have intercepted 15 boats of asylum seekers this year in its waters in the Indian Ocean. Many of those on board were Afghans and Pakistanis.

Refugee Swaps between Malaysia and Australia

In July 2011, Australia and Malaysia signed a “refugee swap” deal that would have permitted Australia to send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia for refugee screening in exchange for receiving 4,000 refugees registered by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. On August 31 the Australia High Court struck down the agreement after determining that it did not legally bind Malaysia to protect the rights of transferred asylum seekers. [Source: Human Rights Watch, World Report 2012: Malaysia]

Australia had clinched a deal with Malaysia to transfer 800 boatpeople to Malaysia to deter refugees from making the risky journey by removing the incentive of being resettled in Australia. But the plan has never been implemented and has been shot down in the Australian parliament by the conservative opposition, led by Tony Abbott, which objects to the fact Malaysia has not signed the UN refugee convention.

In 2013 Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard renewed calls for a refugee swap with Malaysia to deter boatpeople after two asylum-seekers drowned in the latest tragedy at sea. "On the Malaysia arrangement, I would implement that tomorrow if Tony Abbott got out of the way," Gillard told ABC television, hours after a boy aged four or five and a woman in her 30s died in the capsize. [Source: AFP, March 26, 2013]

AFP reported: “Rising numbers of boatpeople have been arriving in Australian waters after the end of the monsoon season, with many travelling in cramped and dangerous wooden fishing vessels from Indonesia. The Malaysia plan was aimed at stopping the flow of hundreds of people, mostly from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, coming by boat from Asian hubs each year in the hope of being resettled in Australia. Under the proposal, Australia agreed to accept 4,000 people from Malaysia who had already been registered as refugees in exchange for sending 800 boatpeople to the South East Asian nation. After the plan collapsed, Canberra reopened refugee processing centres on the Pacific nation of Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. Australia last year dealt with a record 17,202 asylum-seekers arriving by sea and has already seen 3,028 in the first three months of this year.

In August 2011, the BBC reported: “Australia's High Court has ruled that a government plan for a refugee "swap" with Malaysia is unlawful. Under the deal, Australia would have sent 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia and would have received 4,000 refugees in return over four years. But the High Court ruled that Malaysia did not offer adequate protection for refugees in law. The court's ruling was praised by refugee advocates - and there are reports that asylum seekers held at Australia's detention centre on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean clapped when they heard of the judgement. [Source: BBC, August 31, 2011]

The "Malaysian Solution" had intended to deter asylum seekers and the people smugglers who sell them passage to Australia - as well as combat perceptions that the Labor government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard was soft on asylum seekers, observers said. It would have seen up to 800 people arriving "irregularly" in Australia by boat after 25 July 2011 transferred to Malaysia for "refugee status determination", explains a page on Australia's immigration department website. There they would join a queue of refugees already seeking resettlement. Meanwhile, Australia would have expanded its intake of refugees to include a further 4,000 refugees who entered Malaysia before 25 July 2011. This was supposed to send a tough message to boat people that they would not be processed in Australia and they would not receive "preferential treatment" over other asylum seekers. But in a 6-1 ruling, the High Court accepted the argument made by lawyers for two Afghan asylum seekers that the exchange was illegal as Malaysia, which is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees, offered inadequate legal protections for asylum seekers. It said Australia would fail to meet its international obligations under the terms of the deal. It also said Immigration Minister Chris Bowen had no legal power to remove from Australia asylum seekers whose refugee claims had not yet been processed. Malaysia had already begun sending registered refugees to Australia, and the decision leaves hundreds in legal limbo, reports said.

Immigration Requirement to Enter Malaysia

According to the Malaysian government: Immigration procedures to enter Malaysia to study are simple and hassle-free. The requirements of the Immigration Department for international students are as follows: A) The students must: 1) have already been accepted for a full-time course of study (inclusive of English programme) at a public or private higher educational institution; 2) have the financial capability to meet the course fees and living/travel expenses; 3) possess good health and character; 4) be seeking entry for study purposes only. [Source: Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education]

Family members of students under the following categories will be allowed to accompany students to stay in Malaysia for the entire study duration with approval from the Immigration Department. They are: 1) Parents of students; 2) Spouses, children and parents of students from Middle-East countries; 3) Spouses and children of students who are studying postgraduate programmes

International students are also allowed to work part-time (maximum 20 hours per week during semester breaks or holidays of more than 7 days) while studying full-time in Malaysia, subject to immigration requirements.

Malaysia My Second Home Programme (MM2H) is promoted by the Government of Malaysia to allow foreigners who fulfill certain criteria, to stay in Malaysia for as long as possible on a multiple-entry social visit pass. The Social Visit Pass is initially for a period of ten (10) years, and is renewable. It is open to citizens of all countries recognised by Malaysia regardless of race, religion, gender or age. Applicants are allowed to bring their spouses and unmarried children below the age of 21 as dependants.

Applicants are expected to be financially capable of supporting themselves on this programme in Malaysia. Upon application: 1) Applicants aged below 50 years are required to show proof of liquid assets worth a minimum of RM500,000 and offshore income of RM10,000 per month. For certified copy(s) of Current Account submitted as financial proof, applicants must provide the latest 3 months’ statement with each month’s credit balance of RM 500,000. 2) Applicants aged 50 and above may comply with the financial proof of RM350,000 in liquid assets and off shore income of RM10,000 per month. For certified copy(s) of Current Account submitted as financial proof, applicants must provide the latest 3 months’ statement with each month’s credit balance of RM 350,000. For those who have retired, they are required to show proof of receiving pension from government approved funds of RM 10,000 per month. iii. New applicants who have purchased properties worth at least RM 1 million qualify to place a lower fixed deposit amount upon approval.

Upon approval: uccessful applicants are required to comply with the following financial criteria upon receipt of the `conditional approval letter' from Immigration Department of Malaysia.. Upon Approval: Aged Below 50 years old: 1) Open a fixed deposit account of RM300,000.00; 2) After a period of one year, the participant can withdraw up to RM150,000.00 for approved expenses relating to house purchase, education for children in Malaysia and medical purposes. 3) Must maintain a minimum balance of RM150,000.00 from second year onwards and throughout stay in Malaysia under this programme.

Approved participants who have purchased and own property which were bought at RM1 million and above in Malaysia may comply with the basic fixed deposit requirement of RM 150,000 on condition that the property has been fully paid and ownership documents such as grant and land title have already been issued. This amount may not be withdrawn until the participant decides to terminate his participation in MM2H programme.

Upon Approval: Aged 50 years and above: 1) can either choose to open a fixed deposit account of RM150,000.00 or show proof of government approved pension funds of RM10,000; 2) After a period of one year, participant who fulfills the fixed deposit criterion can withdraw up to RM50,000.00 for approved expenses relating to house purchase, education for children in Malaysia and medical purposes. Participant must maintain a minimum balance of RM100,000.00 from the second year onwards and throughout his/her stay in Malaysia under this programme.

Approved participants who have purchased and owned property which were bought at RM1 million and above in Malaysia may comply with the basic fixed deposit requirement of RM 100,000, on condition that the property has been fully paid and ownership documents such as grant and land title have already been issued.This amount may not be withdrawn until the participant decides to terminate his participation in MM2H programme.

All applicants and their dependants are required to submit a medical report from any private hospital or registered clinic in Malaysia. Approved participants and their dependants must possess valid medical insurance coverage that is applicable in Malaysia from any insurance company. However, exemptions may be given for participants who face difficulty in obtaining a medical insurance due to their age or medical condition.

Ethnic Tensions

Resentment over the disparity of incomes, mainly between the affluent Chinese and poor Malays, erupted in violence in 1969. There was rioting in the cities and the constitution and parliament were suspended for nearly two years

See RACIAL DISCORD IN MALAYSIA AND THE RIOTS ON MAY 13, 1969 Under History

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2014

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