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UNHCR: No refugee status for those who commit crimes

People walk at a market in Maungdaw on Nov 11. The market is where the Rohingya Muslim and Rakhine Buddhist communities meet. — (Photo: Reuters) 

By Benedict Ng
December 14, 2014

PETALING JAYA — The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) insists that asylum-seekers in Malaysia are screened thoroughly before they are granted the status. 

The UNHCR Kuala Lumpur spokesman Yante Ismail said a detailed interview and investigation would be carried out on the applicant to determine a person’s eligibility for refugee status. 

“The asylum (application) process assesses whether a person is in need of protection and also when required, whether their conduct would exclude them from protection,” she said. 

“Because of the thoroughness that is required, and for high profile and complicated cases, a longer time is needed to process an individual.”

Concern over who were getting the refugee status was raised after it was reported last week that 15 out of 17 Myanmar men detained to assist police investigations into the brutal murders in Penang are UNHCR cardholders who have been resident in Malaysia for up to 14 years. 

Yante said refugee protection was not extended to individuals who have committed serious crimes or acts contrary to the purposes of the United Nations. 

“Given the seriousness of these issues, a close and full examination of all facts would need to be undertaken.” 

She said because investigations were on-going, the commission was unable to comment on the arrests of the Myanmar detainees, including those who have UNCHR cards. 

“If there are allegations of crimes committed in Malaysia by refugees, UNHCR expects that they be given full due process under the law like any individual,” she said. 

“All refugees and asylum-seekers must respect the national laws of the countries in which they seek asylum in.”

Yante said UNHCR has contacted the Malaysian authorities to offer its assistance. 

From March until November, the country has seen an influx of about 6,000 refugees from Myanmar.

As of November,139,200 Myanmar refugees were registered with UNHCR, with 150,460 asylum-seekers from other countries in Malaysia. 

The Myanmar refugees comprise of 50,620 Chins, 40,070 Rohingyas, 12,160 Myanmar Muslims, 7,440 Rakhines and Arakaneses, and other ethnicities.

The other 11,260 refugees from other countries include 4,200 Sri Lankans, 1,200 Pakistanis, 1,120 Somalis, 970 Syrians, 860 Iraqis, 580 Iranians, 450 Palestinians, 390 Afghans, 360 Yemenis and 140 Sudanese.

In March, the total number of Myanmar refugees was 133,070 and the overall total of refugees in Malaysia from other countries was 143,435. 

The UNHCR believed there were about 35,000 unregistered asylum-seekers in the country and UNHCR is progressively working to register them.

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