20 June 2011 marks World Refugee Day, again.

While the Palestinians’ struggle for liberation, a homeland and a dignified life certainly deserves all the international aid, support, solidarity and more – we must not however turn a blind eye to those with similar or even worse plight than the Palestinians when there are refugees right here in our country.

We need to reflect on how far we have deviated from our common humanity and kindness by looking at how bad we are treating refugees in our country – by stripping them of their rights, respect and dignity as human beings.

Come 20 June, come another World Refugee Day with little or no improvement to the lives of refugees in Malaysia.

Refugees including those from Burma, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and occupied Palestine, are still treated as undocumented migrants and subjected to the same harsh immigration laws and policies that include arrest, detention, criminal prosecution, fine, jail, whipping and deportation.

Instead of mistreating refugees, the government should provide them with documentation, basic humanitarian assistance, access to social services, a chance to work and educate their children, so that they can lead a semblance of a dignified life while they in our country. And when the time comes, they are able to return to their home countries or resettled in third countries, hopefully in a better condition than they were when they first arrived.

In February 2010, Home Ministry Secretary General Datuk Mahmood Adam announced government plans to issue identification cards to refugees recognised by UNHCR that would entitle them to stay temporarily in the country and perform odd jobs. This plan if implemented properly will be a landmark moment in refugee protection – and finally, a real reason for Malaysia to commemorate World Refugee Day.

Will this promise be kept?