GENEVA, Feb 12 — Several Western nations took Malaysia to task yesterday over its treatment of asylum seekers and refugees at an United Nations human rights record review.
Belgium, Britain and the Netherlands were among the nations that expressed “concerns” for refugees and asylum-seekers detained in Malaysia, as they called on Kuala Lumpur to develop legislation that distinguishes asylum seekers from other migrants.
“We note serious problems faced by refugees, migrants and asylum seekers in Malaysia... that is linked to a lack of clarity on their status in the country,” agencies quoted Belgium’s representative as telling the UN Human Rights Council during a universal periodic review session.
Under universal periodic review, all 192 member states of the United Nations have their human rights record vetted by the council once every four years. The session is based on three reports, one submitted by the country under review and two summaries compiled by the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.
The high commissioner’s report noted the lack of national legislation on refugees as well as absence of laws on the rights of migrant workers.
In addition, it said, “many asylum seeking and refugee children, among them Muslim children from a nearby country, including the Rohingya refugee children who had lived in Malaysia since 1990s, lacked access to formal education”.
Malaysia’s foreign ministry secretary-general Tan Sri Rastam Mohd Isa said in his opening remarks that Malaysia prosecutes only refugees who have committed crimes.
Foreign workers are accorded the same rights as local workers, and the rights of illegal immigrants are protected, he told the council.
Human rights groups have accused Malaysia of mistreating millions of foreign workers who live there, as well as asylum-seekers, including thousands from nearby Myanmar, which is under military rule.
Human Rights Watch had singled out Malaysia’s Rela for allegedly beating, threatening and extorting money from migrants and asylum-seekers.
During the session, Chile and France also encouraged Malaysia to eliminate discrimination due to sexual orientation and to “respect the human rights of all individuals”.
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