KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has urged the United Nations refugee agency on Monday (Jul 31) to share its database of some 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers currently registered in the country.
Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan told Channel NewsAsia that the authorities are concerned some Islamic State (IS) militants may have slipped into Malaysia and obtained a refugee card issued by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in order to move freely in the country.
"They [UNHCR] have issued cards but the home ministry is not involved in the process of vetting at all. They don't collect biometric data. So it doesn't help our enforcement effort especially on transnational crime, human trafficking and terrorism. So we want to know whether any IS links have penetrated, their numbers.
"But the refugee numbers reported by UNHCR keeps increasing. And since the Malaysian public now is very concerned about the presence and high numbers of foreigners, it's time the government identifies and closes all loopholes where they can enter. And the UNHCR route is one of them," the deputy minister said.
He added that organised crime brings IS suspects in from the Thai border in trucks and that has been the reason for the crackdown in neighbouring Thailand.
Nur Jazlan said his ministry has not received the appropriate cooperation from UNHCR to implement the Proof of Concept (POC) programme to vet 150,000 UNHCR refugees in the country.
"The POC program was launched on 1st April and thoroughly discussed. They have agreed in principle but fail to give details of refugees as per mutual agreement. And they are not cooperating and slowing down the process."
He said his ministry is considering going directly to the refugee communities to collect their biometrics for its own security system that includes facial recognition.
The UNHCR representative in Kuala Lumpur has yet to respond to media queries.
Based on "figures at a glance" on the UNHCR website, there are some 149,200 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the agency in Malaysia as of June 2017.
Ninety per cent are from Myanmar comprising Rohingyas, Chins, and other ethnic groups from Rakhine and other states.
16,700 refugees and asylum seekers are from other countries, including some 3,800 Pakistanis, 2,200 Sri Lankans, 2,100 Yemenis, 2,100 Somalis, 1,900 Syrians, 1,400 Iraqis, 1,100 Afghans and 700 Palestinians.
Some 67 per cent of refugees and asylum seekers are men, 33 per cent are women while 37,000 are children below the age of 18.