PETALING JAYA | A group of multinational companies that operate in the country have urged the government to allow refugees to work in Malaysia legally.

In a letter to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the companies urged the government to follow through on a pledge in its election manifesto that it would give refugees the right to work.

“Specifically, we ask your government to provide all bonafide refugees registered with the UN Refugee Agency in Malaysia with the opportunity to work legally on par with locals.

“Some of us also encourage your government to provide registered refugees with the right to own/operate a business legally,” they said in the letter that was sent by the Tent Partnership for Refugees.

These companies include Unilever, Hilton, AirBnB, Karex, Kaodim, Reckitt Benckiser and Chobani.

As of October this year, there are some 177,800 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia.

Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1967 Protocol.

The country lacks legal or administrative framework regulating the status and rights of refugees in Malaysia. Refugees are considered undocumented migrants under the Malaysian Immigration Act and are at risk of arrest, detention, and deportation.

The companies believe that giving refugees legal work rights would see three significant benefits including strengthening the country’s economy.

The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) had estimated that allowing refugees to work legally would, by 2024, increase Malaysia’s annual GDP by at least RM3bil, and potentially much more.

The companies also said in the letter that labour shortages in the country would be addressed, adding that many of their businesses faced this problem.

They added that a policy shift would enhance Malaysia’s reputation as a place to do business.

“We understand of course that your government must balance these benefits with other important considerations, but we are confident that your government can do so while still following through on your commitment to allow refugees to work legally,” they said.

Human Resource Minister M. Kulasegaran recently announced that the Cabinet will be making its final decision on the matter between Dec 10 and 15.

Promise 35 of Pakatan’s manifesto stated that refugees’ labour rights will be at par with locals and this initiative will reduce the country’s need for foreign workers and lower the risk of refugees becoming involved in criminal activities and underground economies.

“Providing them with jobs will help refugees to build new lives and without subjecting them to oppression,” Pakatan had said in the manifesto.