According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) the absence of a legal framework leaves refugees vulnerable to human rights abuses.
Malaysia has a population of 29 million, made up largely of Malay, Chinese and Indian people. The Malaysian constitution makes Islam the state religion, though there is significant religious pluralism in Malaysia.
Malaysia gives UNHCR responsibility for registering, evaluating and settling asylum seekers. Meanwhile, UNHCR continues to advocate for Malaysia to accede to the Refugees Convention and its 1967 Protocol.
In mid-2013, UNHCR reported 225,685 persons of concern (all people whose protection and assistance needs are of interest to UNHCR) in Malaysia, including 91,398 refugees and 14,286 asylum seekers. The majority of refugees in Malaysia are Burmese.
Without legal status asylum seekers and refugees risk being returned to their home country, or arbitrarily detained. Without the right to attend government schools, refugee children do not have access to education.
Gerhard Hoffstaedter, Refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia: the good, the bad and the unexpected, The Conversation, 31 July 2012
Human Rights Watch, World Report 2013: Malaysia (2013)
The World Bank, Malaysia profile (2014)
UNHCR, Malaysia operations profile (2014)