RVISION March 23, 2016

KUALA LUMPUR: In light of political developments in Myanmar, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) believes there will be “considerable opportunities” for many of the refugees from there to return home.

UNHCR Malaysia representative Richard Towle however said that this would not apply to the Rohingya refugees who have a much greater challenge in proving their legal relationship with Myanmar.

He, however, believed that the non-Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are coming towards the end of a cycle for their need for refugee protection.

“At the moment it’s a bit early to say what impact the changes in Myanmar would have on refugee movements, but what we can say already is that the direction Myanmar is moving in is broadly positive for a large number of people who are living here in Malaysia.

“Our assessment is that in the coming few years there will be considerable opportunities for people to go home,” Towle told The Star Online in an interview.

Myanmar’s lawmakers last week elected Htin Kyaw, a close aide and longtime friend of Aung San Suu Kyi, to become the country’s first civilian president in decades in a historic moment for the formerly junta-run nation.

As of February there are 144,380 refugees from Myanmar, comprising some 53,700 Rohingyas, 44,870 Chins, 12,220 Myanmar Muslims, 7,150 Rakhines, Arakanese and other ethnicities.

Towle said the baseline measuring point is whether the refugees would face persecution if they went back.

“People can’t stay as refugees forever. It’s not fair on the host state and it’s not what people want anyway,” said Towle saying that Vietnamese refugees for example returned home in 1995 after conditions improved.

He added that they were discussing with the governments of Malaysia, Myanmar and these ethnic groups on their future pathways.

He, however, said the return of the refugees will not “happen overnight” and that it is important to have a strategic action plan for the management of these groups.

“What we are trying to do at the moment is encourage the government of Malaysia to provide a transitional period for these groups to work lawfully here in Malaysia.

“If they are registered here in Malaysia lawfully and can work lawfully for a temporary period, this will give all sides the breathing room to negotiate a more durable solution including returns,” he said adding this was a natural development.