‘Turning a blind eye’: the policy response to Rohingya refugees in Malaysia

Working and discussion papers
November 2016

At the end of October 2016, there were 150,669 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia; 54,856 of whom were Rohingya. Estimates suggest tens of thousands more Rohingya refugees remain unregistered in Malaysia. This working paper considers the institutions, organisations and policies that affect the lives and livelihoods of Rohingya refugees in Malaysia. It begins by describing the stakeholders involved with refugees in Malaysia: their roles, constraints, interactions and key policies (such as registration) as they pertain to Rohingya refugees. Subsequent themes explored in the working paper include refugees and employment – such as potential advantages and concerns regarding the introduction of work permits for refugees – and interactions between refugee community-based organisations, aid actors and Malaysians.

This working paper is a companion to Livelihood strategies of Rohingya refugees in Malaysia: ‘we want to live in dignity', which considered the lives and livelihoods of Rohingya refugees in Malaysia from the perspective of refugees. It is part of a broader programme of HPG/ODI work that considers the livelihoods of refugees in protracted displacement, with a focus on refugees living outside of camps. In addition to Rohingya refugees in Malaysia (specifically Kuala Lumpur), the working paper includes case studies on Central African Republic refugees in Cameroon and Syrian refugees in Turkey and Jordan.