Pilot project to allow Rohingya UNHCR card holders work legally to begin from March: Zahid

PUTRAJAYA: The pilot project initiated by the government to allow Rohingya refugees to work legally in Malaysia will begin on March 1.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the project would allow 300 Rohingya United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) card holders to work in stages.

He said the selected refugees would have to pass security and health screening before being allowed to enter the country's workforce.

"The refugees would be assigned to selected companies in the plantation and manufacturing sectors to provide them with the skills and a source of income before they are relocated to a third country," he said.

Ahmad Zahid said this in a statement after chairing the high level committee meeting on issues related to the UNHCR at Perdana Putra here.

He also said the National Security Council (NSC) is in the midst to improve its Order no. 23 to ensure a smoother and more organised handling of UNHCR card holders currently residing in Malaysia.

NSC Order no. 23 deals with the mechanism to manage illegal immigrants which outlines measures to reduce the number of illegals in Malaysia.

"The government is always looking for the best approach to manage UNHCR card holders despite the country not being a member to the UN's 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol," he said.

Ahmad Zahid also announced the formation of a joint task force to manage issues pertaining to refugees effectively.

"The task force would involve the cooperation of six ministries with the UNHCR to ensure the validity of the UNHCR cards issued," he said.

Ahmad Zahid said currently there were a total of 149,474 documented UNHCR card holders from 62 countries in Malaysia.

From the total, 133,517 or 89% originated from Myanmar, with more than 55,000 refugees of Rohingya ethnicity, he added.