Malaysia plans to issue identification cards to refugees who are recognized by the United Nations, allowing them to stay in the country temporarily and avoid arrest as illegal immigrants.
Malaysia, which has declined to join the U.N. convention on refugees for fear of attracting a flood of migrants, previously has arrested refugees frequently as illegal aliens. Mostly from Myanmar, the refugees often have spent months in overcrowded detention center and faced caning and deportation.
The plans announced Monday reflect a softening of Malaysia’s position toward the refugees, although it continues to refuse them official recognition.
Home Ministry Secretary General Mahmood Adam said the government would work with the U.N. refugee agency to issue the cards so immigration enforcement personnel would recognize and spare U.N.-designated refugees.
“As long as they are recognized as refugees by the U.N., they can stay here temporarily,” he told The Associated Press. “They cannot work here, but they can do odd jobs.”
He could not give an exact timeline but said the initiative was in the “final stage.”
According to the U.N. agency, about 75,600 refugees and asylum-seekers were in Malaysia as of November. Most fled persecution in Myanmar.
Yante Ismail, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, welcomed the development and further discussions to form a documentation system.
“Proper documentation for refugees is essential to their protection,” she said.
All of the refugees in Malaysia are waiting to be resettled to a third country that officially accepts refugees, which grants them legal status and the right to work.