Muslim Rohingya refugees will soon be allowed to work legally in the Malaysia, as reported in Channel NewsAsia. The country’s deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi mentioned that this landmark move will start off as a pilot project on 1 March this year.

After chairing a high-level UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) meeting at his Putrajaya office, he highlighted that the offer is applicable only to Rohingya refugees who are UNHCR cardholders and have undergone health and security screenings. He added that successful applicants will be placed with selected companies in the plantation and manufacturing industries.

Hamidi commented: "They will be able to gain skills and income to make a living before being relocated to a third country."

Hamidi, who is also the home minister, said that the project will help to address the human trafficking issue and prevent exploitation of Rohingya as forced labour and illegal workers in the country.

However, deputy home minister Nur Jazlan said to Channel NewsAsia that the project has not been received well - with only 120 Rohingya indicating their interest in joining the programme.

Jazlan said: "They prefer to be entrepreneurs and do small business within their community. They don't want to be tied down in plantations."

As of 31 Dec 2016, there were about 150,000 UNHCR cardholders from 62 countries in Malaysia where 90% are from Myanmar, with 56,000 of those being Rohingya. Undocumented ones run into the thousands, said migrant rights group Tenaganita.

On that note, Glorene Fernandez, executive director of migrant rights group Tenaganita, shared her view on how the project should not be limited to just Rohingya. She said: "We should not discriminate against other refugees. The project should be opened to all.”

Photo / 123RF