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Registration Of Asylum Seekers In Malaysia Begins

UN Agency To Begin Registration Drive Of Asylum Seekers In Malaysia

Teams from the United Nations refugee agency will begin wading into the jungles of Malaysia next week to register refugees and other asylum seekers ahead of an expected crackdown on illegal migrants early in 2005.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has already completed a mobile registration exercise on the island of Penang for refugees from the strife-torn Indonesian province of Aceh, plans beginning Monday to send its mobile teams to other parts of the country where asylum seekers living in dire conditions without the ability to contact the UN agency directly for registration.

Among the 28,000 refugees and people of concern living in jungle camps outside the capital Kuala Lumpur are some 10,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, Jennifer Pagonis, a UNHCR spokesperson, told a press briefing in Geneva.

In early November, in a welcome humanitarian gesture, the Malaysian Government said it would grant temporary stay permits to the Rohingyas, easing their fears about being caught up in the crackdown and bringing the prospect of access to education and health care closer.

But the Rohingyas are experiencing growing anxiety since Malaysian Government ministers made conflicting comments this week over whether a decision on their return has been finalized, according to UNHCR.

Ms. Pagonis voiced confidence that the matter has been settled. “UNHCR was officially informed by a minister from the Prime Minister's Department that the policy decision on the Rohingyas had been taken and now it is just a question of implementation,” she said.

“We believe the Government will not backtrack on its announced commitment but consider that a quick implementation of the new policy will be in the best interests of the refugees, allaying their fears and providing protection ahead of the crackdown.”

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