Govt to conduct study on refugee employment

KUALA LUMPUR: The government is set to conduct a comprehensive study to allow refugees to work in specific sectors of the country.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said the ministry was collaborating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to gather relevant data on the matter.

Among the information collected, he said, were the residences of refugees to determine their actual numbers before being allowed to work.

"Once the data is available, we can map it out. For example, how many (Rohingya refugees) are in Sabah, Perlis, and Sarawak," he told the Mingguan Malaysia newspaper today.

Saifuddin said that based on requests, sectors identified as potential employers for refugees included agriculture and plantations.

He said the gathered data would be matched with farms needing workers instead of allowing refugees to set up stalls or other small businesses.

Saifuddin said the number of refugees was unclear because of differing data registered by the government and the UNHCR.

"The National Security Council manages 40,000 refugees from 48 countries, while UNHCR data reveals 189,000 refugees.

"Most of them who entered Malaysia are between the ages of 25 and 40, and are productive and capable of working."

He added that some refugees entered the country during the Vietnam War with the approval of the administration at that time.

"They were rescued and brought to Malaysian soil, and we agreed (to take them in) because they were war refugees. Therefore, the UNHCR registered them, and then it looked for a third country.

"The reason is that refugees cannot stay here for long."

However, Saifuddin said although some countries had ended their wars, some refugees could return to their respective home countries due to ongoing conflicts.

It was understood that the idea of allowing refugees to work in Malaysia had been discussed in several administrations before and was revived by the Pakatan Harapan government in 2018.

On July 14, 2020, the then prime minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, said the government was considering allowing refugees to work legally in Malaysia.

He said the Human Resources Ministry was tasked with heading a committee to review issues surrounding allowing refugees to work legally in the country.

Currently, refugees who carry the UNHCR card are allowed to work only in informal sectors.

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