Status of Chin Refugees in Malaysia: The Chin People

Everybody has a right to be safe
Everybody has a right to be safe


Hi, my name is Ashley, and I am a teacher for a refugee education center in Kuala Lumpur. My students can finally breathe again! The Chin Refugees in Malaysia have been on pins and needles this past year because they heard that they would no longer be welcome to stay in Malaysia. Holy cow! I heard the same from other teachers at different education centers in Malaysia. We all try to help the refugee children get an education because these kids are not allowed to go to public school here. Now, they can go back to their studies, with one less thing to worry about. The Chin Refugees in Malaysia can stay!

Refugee School in Malaysia

On Friday, April 26, 2019, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) hosted an information session on the status of Chin Refugees in Malaysia.  The following organizations that serve this population were invited:  

  • NGOs and clinics
  • Schools and women’s empowerment centers
  • Expat organizations


The Chin Refugees in Malaysia have held UNHCR protection in Malaysia since 2005 (Policy A). Most of the Chin people are Christians.  Last year, UNHCR declared that it was safe for the Chin people to go home to the Chin State in Myanmar (Policy B). It established a date of December 31, 2019, when UNHCR’s protective status would end.

Chin Region, Myanmar
The Chin Region, Myanmar

On March 14, UNHCR noted that conditions in the southern part of the Chin State had deteriorated and that UNHCR would continue to support the Chin refugees beyond 2019 (Policy C). I visited Myanmar in 2017, but I was in the city of Yangon to see the temples.


Because of this recent policy reversal, new plans are underway at UNHCR. The staff held a meeting on April 25 with Chin leaders and presented an info sheet in their languages.

During the past several months, UNHCR has exchanged expiring UNHCR cards for Refugee Certificates (Policy B). Now, UNHCR will reverse that process (Policy C). Any Chin refugee in Malaysia who is registered with UNHCR can turn in the Refugee Certificate. They will then receive a new UNHCR card. Since these certificates are valid until year-end, UNHCR plans to contact these individuals in a few months to process their new UNHCR card.

Alongside this “Who’s On First” back-and-forth, UNHCR is undergoing a comprehensive review of the refugee registration process in Malaysia. The goal is to expedite the process for all refugees. A plan for proceeding is expected within three months.



Because of this new situation, each Chin family is saying, “What do we do now?”

  • The Chin Refugees in Malaysia who have previously been rejected from the UNHCR registration can reapply; however, they can only reapply through a personal request explaining the new development that makes the person more vulnerable.  
  • Chin people already back in Myanmar can legally come to Malaysia again, but only if they are unsafe. They would begin the process over again as an asylum seeker, unfortunately.
  • Chin Refugees in Malaysia with UNHCR status can add a spouse or family members. The process is under a Derivative Status Claim. Most often, the refugee would consult a member of the Partner Referral Network.


Asylum Seekers who have not yet applied to UNHCR can do so. Priority will be given to highly vulnerable persons, based upon the definitions below:

  • Normal: Heightened safety concerns that affect all refugees and asylum seekers. Action will be taken within 6 months.
    • Urgent: Pressing health or physical risk. For this reason, action will be taken within 3 months.
    • Emergency:  Immediate life or death situation. Action will be taken as quickly as possible, for a life may be in grave danger.
Everybody has a right to be safe.

Sadly, arbitrary arrests are considered a “Normal” occurrence for a refugee in Malaysia. The only time UNHCR can be involved is in the situation where a person holding an UNHCR card is arrested because of a violation of immigration law. In that case, UNHCR will advocate for the person’s release.


Refugee Camp

There are more than 66 million refugees worldwide. Of those, the three top countries of origin are:

  • Syria — 6.3 million refugees.
  • South Sudan — 2.4 million refugees.
  • Myanmar – 1.2 million refugees.

In Malaysia, there are approximately 170,000 refugees. About half of the refugees in Malaysia are Myanmar Rohingya. In addition, about 15,000 are Chin. The refugees in Malaysia have these options:

  1. Resettlement to another country. Sadly, resettlement happens for only 2% of refugees worldwide.
  2. Repatriation back to the home country.
  3. Interim solution: Give refugees the legal right to work and attend public school in Malaysia. The expats and Christian churches in Malaysia provide significant volunteer and financial support for refugee schools. If you are in Malaysia and interested in serving as a volunteer, please contact me by WhatsApp: +60163975100.


Refugee: A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. Sadly, a refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. (Source: UNHCR)

Fleeing my country.

Asylum Seeker: An asylum-seeker is someone whose request for sanctuary has yet to be processed. UNHCR believes that everyone has a right to seek asylum from persecution, and one of their missions is to protect those who need it. (Source: UNHCR) Remember, an asylum seeker often has requested international protection in a country other than his/her own and is waiting on a decision.

Recognized Refugee: A refugee who has successfully completed the registration process through UNHCR and holds an UNHCR card, typically issued for a period of three years. Also, the card can be renewed after the initial time period by visiting UNHCR.

Partner Referral Network: A group of 59 organizations throughout Malaysia that connect refugees to UNHCR. Luckily, most of these organizations are NGOs and clinics that serve refugees. These organizations will help prioritize the needs of the Chin community during this time of transition to Policy C.

The CWO School in Kuala Lumpur teaches refugee children who cannot attend public school.
Future Chin Doctor.
A future doctor from a Chin Refugee Education Center.

For More Info

For more info, contact Donna Lamb

WhatsApp: +6016 397 5100


Travel with Donna

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