Operation: Opération: Malaysia



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Key Figures

2020 year-end results
21,499 individuals (6,406 households) assisted with one-off cash support
12,357 people of concern provided with primary and secondary health care services
7,180 registered children (43.8%) enrolled in primary education in learning centres 
6,419 people of concern to UNHCR registered, and 1,682 refugee status determination decisions delivered
1,143 individuals submitted for resettlement and 971 individuals departed 
748 individuals released from detention
2021 planning figures
30,000 eligible individuals will be registered, with the majority having arrived in the country years ago 
12,000 children will have access to primary education in learning centres
3,000 interventions will be made to release individuals from detention 
3,000 people of concern with acute protection needs will receive resettlement support based on allocations provided by resettlement countries
1,860 stateless persons will be assisted with acquisition of nationality 

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Decrease in
2020 188,819
2019 243,784
2018 252,742


[["Refugees",128798],["Refugee-like situation",1144],["Asylum-seekers",49837],["Stateless",9040]]
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2020 {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"budget":[19.68385869,18.525587769999998,16.59339717,17.949195539999998,22.131839680000002,22.527345240000002],"expenditure":[8.25204939,8.067796979999999,8.30928286,8.685715550000001,13.813611300000002,null]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[18.71080951,18.00827372,15.84174178,17.08860191,21.25873967,22.19948723],"p2":[0.9730491800000001,0.51731405,0.75165539,0.86059363,0.87310001,0.32785801000000003],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[null,null,null,null,null,null]} {"categories":[2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021],"p1":[7.57517327,7.72566217,8.17526165,8.53618025,13.68393242,null],"p2":[0.67687612,0.34213481,0.13402121,0.14953529999999998,0.12967888,null],"p3":[null,null,null,null,null,null],"p4":[null,null,null,null,null,null]}
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  • 2014
  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019
  • 2020
  • 2021

Operational context

UNHCR pursued steps to establish a national asylum framework and refugee policy that would afford refugees and asylum-seekers temporary stay and access to legal work. However, changes in the socio-political landscape and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the process.  

Movement Control Orders (MCO) put in place by the Government to curb the spread of COVID-19 and other containment measures gravely impacted the ability of people of concern to meet their basic needs and resulted in many refugees losing their source of income.

While regular UNHCR activities slowed down during the MCO, essential protection and assistance services and business continuity was nonetheless ensured. Efforts continued to provide protection and assistance to refugees, including though registration and documentation, a salient protection tool against arrest and detention.  

The socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 coupled with a complex socio-political context and the arrival of asylum-seekers through secondary movements fuelled an unprecedented orchestrated hate campaign on social media against refugees and other foreigners. Moreover, due to the unprecedented global challenges posed by the pandemic, the Operation saw the lowest resettlement departures since 2008.

In line with the Global Compact on Refugees and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UNHCR contributed to the development of the UNSDCF 2021-2025 for Malaysia, focusing on the inclusion of refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless persons in social protection mechanisms.

Finally, since the statelessness programme began in 2014, 13,070 persons applied for citizenship through UNHCR’s partner, of whom 4,036 acquired nationality. 

Population trends 

  • As of end 2020, the total number of people of concern registered with the Office remained largely unchanged; with 178,613 people, including 128,769 refugees (72%) and 49,844 asylum-seekers (28%).
  • Out of this total, 86% were from Myanmar. Of the non-Myanmar population, the largest group is from Pakistan, followed by Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan and other countries. In Malaysia, people of concern primarily live in urban areas.
  • Out of the overall population, 68% are male and 32% are female, with the majority (73%) aged between 18 and 59 years.
  • At the end of 2020, there were 111,298 stateless persons in Malaysia, of which 102,258 were stateless refugees and asylum-seekers from Myanmar. The remaining 9,040 are in situ stateless persons in West Malaysia, the majority of whom are of Indian Tamil ethnicity.

Key achievements

  • Business continuity: Regular activities slowed down during the MCO and the UNHCR reception centre was closed. However, essential protection and assistance services and business continuity was ensured through alternative work modalities, namely through remote case management and interview processes and procedures.  
  • Emergency response: With additional resources received for the COVD-19 emergency response, the Operation significantly expanded  and increased support to people of concern in order to address their immediate socioeconomic needs in the areas of: cash support (6,002 households / 20,170 individuals), communication with communities, support to refugee based organizations (21 refugee based organisations provided with financial support), health including mental health and additional secondary health care support (1,698 individuals), support with food packages (8,435 households), education, distance learning (10,800 children and youth); support to children (411 children) and women at risk (47 women) as well as GBV survivors (368 individuals), etc.  
  • Community outreach: As part of its community outreach strategy and to bring protection services closer to refugees, the operation expanded its support to refugees (4,706 individuals) in Johor state through the establishment of a community outreach centre.

Unmet needs

Inadequate resources resulted in consequences for refugees who face challenges in achieving greater economic self-reliance and access to services in a challenging protection environment.
  • Due to the pandemic, the backlog of unregistered people of concern and the number of people in the refugee status determination process increased.  
  • Movement restrictions and economic lockdowns exacerbated challenges in accessing health care. Supported interventions in the area of mental health expanded in 2020 were still insufficient to meet the growing needs.
  • Critical needs also remain in various areas of primary and secondary education, including access to quality education and the retention of boys and girls in schools.
  • The pandemic exacerbated protection risks for women and children, including barriers for gender-based violence survivors in accessing justice and protection and increased negative coping mechanisms, including child labour, begging, and exposure to exploitation and abuse.
  • There remains a need to further strengthen cash assistance to address the urgent and immediate financial needs of vulnerable refugees and strengthen interventions to enhance the socioeconomic resilience of refugees.

Use of flexible funding (unearmarked or softly earmarked funding)

With thanks to flexible funding which amounted to USD 10.9 million in 2020, UNHCR in Malaysia was able to implement the following activities.
  • The UNHCR reception centre, which receives an average of 600 to 1,000 people of concern per day, was upgraded to improve reception conditions, such as visitor and physical workflows; reduce waiting time; establish a more welcoming and respectful environment. The design of the centre was also improved to comply with physical distancing and other necessary health precautionary measures in accordance with Government issued guidelines and WHO recommendations in the context of the pandemic.
  • Investment in digital infrastructure was made with the provision of tablets for 1,000 secondary students, laptops for 217 teachers, data/plan connectivity for 1,800 students and 135 teachers and production of online learning material. Other innovative practices were implemented to facilitate access to education and sustain retention of children during the pandemic.

Working environment

Malaysia hosts an urban population of some 177,000 UNHCR-registered asylum-seekers and refugees, in addition to an estimated 10,000 stateless persons. There is a much larger undocumented migrant population in Malaysia, estimated at between 2 to 4 million people. Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness Conventions.
In this mixed migration environment, there is presently no distinction under domestic law between asylum-seekers, refugees and undocumented migrants. The absence of a national policy for refugees and asylum-seekers precludes their legal residence, access to legal employment, affordable health care, and, certified and accredited education as well as other public services. Despite ad hoc arrangements to protect refugees and asylum-seekers, they remain at risk of arrest, prosecution, prolonged detention and refoulement.
UNHCR has historically been responsible for all activities related to the registration, documentation, status determination and solutions for refugees and asylum-seekers in Malaysia. UNHCR and the Malaysian Government have embarked on discussions to develop a more comprehensive policy for refugees and asylum-seekers based on the 2018 election manifesto of the present Government, which includes a promise to regularize people with UNHCR cards allowing them with access to work at par with locals.
UNHCR will further grow its engagement with a network of private sector partners including international corporations based in Malaysia, national companies and banks to leverage their interest and social corporate responsibility programmes in refugee employment, empowerment and self-reliance; this will further grow in 2020.
UNHCR is seeking the inclusion of refugees and asylum-seekers into the 12th Malaysia’s Plan 2021-2025, to ensure that a future refugee policy is appropriately planned and budgeted for in line with the principle of leaving no one behind under the Sustainable Development Goals.


Key priorities

UNHCR’s response in Malaysia is steered by the following three objectives: achieve a government policy for the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers; maximise protection and the benefit of a new policy for refugees and asylum-seekers through strategic engagement with partners, government and communities; empower women, girls and youth.
In 2020, UNHCR will:
  • Continue close collaboration with the Malaysian government in formulating an immediate policy for the protection of refugees with a view to developing a comprehensive legal refugee  framework over time.
  • Achieve affordable health care and health insurance for refugees;
  • Increase enrollment and achieve access to certified and accredited education for children and youth.
  • Enhance outreach services to ensure effective information sharing and strengthen community-led protection initiatives.
  • Target interventions for women, girls and youth to support access to quality education, technical skills and vocational training as well as participation and effective protection.
  • Implement a comprehensive solutions strategy;
  • Advance the resolution of the situation of stateless persons including through the streamlining of policies and practices.
Latest contributions
  • 25-NOV-2021
    United States of America

    private donors

  • 24-NOV-2021
  • Germany
  • 23-NOV-2021
    United States of America

    private donors

  • 22-NOV-2021
    United States of America

    private donors

  • Japan

    private donors

  • 18-NOV-2021

    private donors

  • Argentina
  • Romania
  • Qatar
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • 17-NOV-2021

    private donors

  • Germany
  • 15-NOV-2021
    United Arab Emirates

    private donors

  • 12-NOV-2021
  • 11-NOV-2021
  • Angola
  • 09-NOV-2021
  • 08-NOV-2021
  • Hungary