The number of Syrian refugees is on the rise. Reports about Syrians fleeing to neighboring countries abound, but until today I was not aware that refugees from Syria are also arriving in Malaysia. The number of arrivals from Syria is not clear; UNHCR-Malaysia does not mention them on their website. And yet local NGOs are beginning to serve people fleeing the escalating conflict and violence in Syria.
Over the last three months about 60 families from Syria have registered at the Sahabat Support Centre (SSC), a project of the Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI). One third of those families are Syrian, almost a third are Palestinian, and another third are Iraqis. Like all other of the roughly 100,000 refugees in Malaysia, they are not entitled to any support from UNHCR until their refugee status has been determined and recognized. Given the current backlog, service providers estimate that the newly arrived refugees might need to wait a year or two for their first instance interview, which is ironic since some of the Iraqis have been approved for resettlement by UNHCR-Damascus. We have learnt of one family who was to travel to the United States within a month. However, their dwellings in Damascus were bombed, they feared for they lives, and fled to Kuala Lumpur. They were told by UNHCR that they would have to begin the whole process anew!
The refugees and service providers are frustrated as they cannot understand why UNHCR-Malaysia does not honor decisions made by their colleagues in Damascus. The family in question brought with them all of their documentation, but somehow this was not enough…
A blog set up by Syrian expats in Malaysia suggests that refugees from Syria arrive daily in Kuala Lumpur. They can get a 90-day visa on arrival which provides a relatively easy access to the country. Islam is a dominant religion in Malaysia which is not without importance either….