Towards Refugees' Rights to Work
“Refugees should be included in the communities from the very beginning. When refugees gain access to education and labour markets, they can build their skills and become self-reliant, contributing to local economies and fuelling the development of the communities hosting them.”
Despite having hosted asylum seekers for decades, Malaysia and Thailand are not among the 149 United Nations member states that have signed the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the Refugee Convention) and/or its Protocol. In both countries, authorities have alternated between denying responsibility, granting humanitarian exceptions, and closing one eye on the presence of refugees in their territory. Consistently, however, refugees have been forced to seek work in the informal sector, exposing them to detention, arrest, exploitation, and destitution. Small and medium enterprise owners from a wide range of sectors were interviewed for this report. The majority were in favour of granting refugees the right to work, provided that the process for hiring them would not be overly onerous. They recognised the mutual benefits of legally employing refugees already in Malaysia and thus reducing the reliance on hiring foreign workers to do jobs that Malaysians are unwilling to do. Further, under the current system refugees are largely prevented from putting their skills to use. Refugees left their countries in search for safety from persecution.
As COVID-19 highlighted, they bring with them the potential for creativity, hard work, and connection with international networks. Refugee work rights will be best realized in a clear policy framework and implemented through a whole-of-society approach including different levels of government, the private sector, civil society, and refugee associations. This paper provides insights into refugees’ skills, entrepreneurs’ motivations and concerns, legal barriers, political opportunities, and efforts undertaken to allow refugees to work safe from exploitation or arrest.
Read the full report here.