Southeast-Asian grouping needs to be flexible in its non-inteference policy to discuss and manage refugee issue, says former foreign minister.
KUALA LUMPUR: Former foreign minister Syed Hamid Albar said Asean countries need to be more flexible in their non-interference policy, especially in tackling refugee issues.
"Asean countries respect the sovereignty and the non-interference policy adopted by member countries. Due to that, it's a sensitive issue.
"But the spillover of refugees is no longer a domestic issue in Myanmar. It is a violation of human rights."
He was speaking to reporters after delivering a keynote address at the UNHCR Expert roundtable discussion, titled "Employing Refugees in Malaysia: A Win-Win for All?".
Syed Hamid said the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) had tried to set up office in Myanmar to look into the root cause of the problem between the people of Myanmar and the Rohingya community.
"But there was strong opposition from extreme groups there."
He urged Myanmar's Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi to look into the issue and pleaded with her not to neglect the issue which has since evolved into a humanitarian crisis.
"The Rohingya community are deprived of education and medical benefits. They live in deplorable conditions."
Last year, thousands of Rohingyas fled Myanmar to Malaysia and Indonesia to seek better lives after years of persecution in their homeland.
Syed Hamid then praised the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) move to re-issue enhanced identity cards with biometric safety features to refugees and prepare proper documentation of refugees in Malaysia.
The initiative is meant to stop the spread of fake documents after media reports exposed syndicates issuing such cards to illegal immigrants.
Syed Hamid, who also heads HumaniTi Malaysia, an NGO which supports education and humanitarian issues, said he will meet government officials here to allow genuine refugees to work in Malaysia, once the documentation is completed.
"Instead of hiring foreigners, use the existing manpower who are registered with UNHCR to work in sectors Malaysians are not interested in.
"It is a good way of solving labour shortage," he said, adding that this method will ensure that refugees would not be exploited.
Syed Hamid also said this could allay fears that allowing refugees to work in the country would lead to an influx.
Asean is a 10-member grouping of Southeast-Asian nations comprising Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Timor Leste is the only Southeast-Asian nation yet to gain full membership in Asean.