Our services are free, cards not given on a whim, UNHCR says after DG’s claims

THE local office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reiterated that its services are free and documentation is not given out on a whim, in response to an allegation that some Rohingyas are paying agents to get UNHCR cards.

Immigration Department director-general Datuk Seri Khairul Dzaimee Daud made the claim on Saturday (Sept 17) after arresting some Rohingya UNHCR cardholders during a sting in Tasek Gelugor, Penang.

According to him, each of the Rohingyas, who entered Malaysia from Thailand with the assistance of agents, paid them between RM5,000 to RM7,000 to be taken to the UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur and get UNHCR cards.

UNHCR Kuala Lumpur’s spokeswoman Yante Ismail said its documentation is only issued to those verified as refugees, asylum-seekers and in need of international protection – regardless of which country they are from and how they arrived in Malaysia.

Yante Ismail

“Persons presenting themselves at our office do not automatically get documentation,” she told FocusM. “They must undergo a rigorous procedure and fulfil the refugee definition.”

The UNHCR defines a refugee as someone who has fled their country due to war and conflict or a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country on the grounds of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

An individual is also considered to be a refugee if they lose the protection of their own countries and are unable to return home safely.

“A person can only be verified to be a refugee and in need of international protection if they fulfil these criteria,” Yante said, adding that all UNHCR services in Malaysia, including the issuance of its documentation to asylum-seekers and refugees, are free.

“Significant investments”

She also noted that as part of the UNHCR’s continued efforts to combat identity fraud and card counterfeiting, the agency, in consultation with the relevant local authorities, has made significant investments in further tightening its procedures and ensuring the integrity of its documentation.

“For several years now, UNHCR cards contain 10 enhanced security features, including 3D holograms, barcodes and a ‘secure quick response’ (SQR) code, supported by biometric data collection at the UNHCR office, which includes iris and 10-finger scanning.

“The authenticity of the card can also be verified through the UNHCR Verify Plus App, which allows law enforcement officials and others engaged in UNHCR’s protection and assistance work to easily verify the authenticity of the card,” she added.

Besides that, the UNHCR works closely with law enforcement authorities on a regular basis on matters related to refugee protection and documentation, including verifying refugee documents through its office or through the Verify Plus App.

All these efforts, she noted, aim to better protect refugees, address the Government’s concerns around security and ensure the integrity of the asylum process.

“This is something UNHCR takes seriously all over the world, including in Malaysia,” she pointed out.

She added that given increasing obstacles to access safety, refugees, asylum-seekers and other persons in need of international protection are often compelled to use smugglers as their only means to flee persecution, conflict and violence.

“In view of this dilemma, the UNHCR has a particular role to play in supporting Governments to reconcile measures to address the smuggling of refugees (while) ensuring that the international protection needs of those on the move are met,” she said.

As one example, the UNHCR is involved in encouraging safe and legal pathways for those escaping persecution. – Sept 20, 2022


Main photo credit: Reuters

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