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UN finding it harder to resettle refugees in new countries

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By Shahanaaz Habib
May 10, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia can no longer expect refugees coming here to be re-settled to third countries like in the past because such places are “shrinking” internationally.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Malaysia representative, Richard Towle, says priorities have shifted to other places like the Middle East, the Sub Sahara area and Africa where there are greater humanitarian crises.

“Last year, we submitted approximately 15,000 applications for resettlement. This year the number will be half of that because there is no longer the same degree of interest from the resettlement countries,” he said in an interview.

There are currently 152,570 refugees registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia.

Towle said in the 1970s and the 1980s when the Indo-Chinese boat people fled to Malaysia, there was “a high degree of willingness” from the international community to find solutions for the refugees through resettlement, adding that those days were “very significantly gone.”

In 2014, the number of refugees worldwide grew to 14.2 million.

Towle said under the situation, the role of UNHCR too was changing and shifting to where the greater priorities were.

“Our ability to provide support in the way we have in the past to Malaysia is getting less and less because we have fewer resources available to do this,” he added.

Towle said based on the new realities, it was up to host nations like Malaysia to find different ways of dealing with the refugee situation.

Of the refugees registered with the UNHCR, 94% come from Myanmar.

He said they were forced to flee because of repressions, persecution and flagrant human rights violations.

He said the choice for Malaysia was whether to let them remain faceless in the black and grey market economy or act through some kind of registration programme.

“If no steps are taken to find out who is here, they will remain in this dark grey area of exploitation and criminality,” he said.

Last week, Thailand uncovered camps and mass graves in Songkhla and Padang Besar. They were the remains of Rohingya smuggled and trafficked into the country.

The former president of the Rohingya club in Thailand alleged that there were similar camps in Malaysia where Rohingya and Bangladeshi “slaves” were being brought in and kept by traffickers.

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