Monday, 30 June 2008 17:35

Refugees are appealing to their present host countries for temporary documents to allow them to stay and work legally while the UNHCR processes their resettlement to third countries. If they are allowed to work, refugees could signficantly contribute to the economic development of their host countries says Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani. Rohingya refugees are also asking the UNHCR to resettle them to third countries just as it does for other refugees.

In the year 2007, the global number of refugees and displaced people reached 67 million. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there has been an increase in the last two years.

While the world is facing an increase in the global number of refugees, the Myanmar Ethnic Rohingyas Human Rights Organisation Malaysia (Merhrom) urges the United Nations agencies especially the UNHCR to find solutions to the problems faced by the refugees and displaced people by addressing the root causes.

In the case of Myanmar, though the United Nations made attempts to restore democracy by meeting with the military junta, there have been no changes whatsoever. The military junta continues with human rights violations. The United Nations has to use a different strategy in dealing with the Myanmar military junta to end its human rights violations against the people of Myanmar. We will continue to see an increasing number of refugees from Myanmar, which would contribute to the global numbers of refugees and displaced people until and unless the United Nations is able to restore democracy in Myanmar.

Recognising the fact that the UNHCR faces various challenges in dealing with refugees issues, Merhrom continues to call on the UNHCR to protect the rights of refugees as they are one of the most vulnerable groups. The UNHCR must continue the dialogue with the refugees' host countries to stop the arrest, detention and deportation of refugees due to their vulnerable situations. The deportation of refugees to the Thai border further increases their vulnerability to human trafficking.

Apart from continuous dialogue with the host countries of refugees, Merhrom calls on the UNHCR to not discriminate and practise double standards in the resettlement processes based on ethnicity, race and religion. Further to that, resettlement countries should not practise discriminatory policies in accepting Refugees into their countries.

As we understand it, the UNHCR also has some limitations in resettling refugees due to their large number. Merhrom appeals to the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva to look seriously into the plight of stateless Rohingya refugees who mainly seek refuge in Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Rohingya refugees have been stranded in Malaysia for almost two decades; yet there has been no solution to their plight.

While the UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur has resettled other ethnic refugees from Myanmar, Merhrom hopes that the UNHCR applies the same policy towards Rohingya refugees as we are in need of the same protection, assistance, education and safe environment like others.

Merhrom also appeals to the host countries of refugees to issue temporary documents to allow refugees to stay and work legally while the UNHCR processes our resettlement to third countries. By allowing refugees to work, we could also contribute to the economic development of the host countries.

Though not many countries have signed the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, most of the host countries of refugees have signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against women (Cedaw). Therefore the state is accountable for the protection of every child and woman on their soil. But the reality is babies, children and women continue to be subject to arrest, detention and deportation.

Currently, the refugees' lives are challenged by the sharp increase in the prices of goods. It is difficult for refugees to continue living in the current situation as we are not allowed to work. Therefore, we hope that host countries would be more sympathetic to our plight as shown in their compassion towards the victims of Cyclone Nargis.

It is not easy to live as refugees in a foreign land where our rights are completely denied. Our suffering is unexplainable.

We hope that our voices will be heard on this World Refugees Day and that action will be taken to reduce our sufferings and that we can work together in bringing about a better future for all refugees.

Zafar Ahmad Bin Hj. Abdul Ghani is President of the Myanmar Ethnic Rohingyas Human Rights Organisation Malaysia (Merhrom)