About 11,000 Burmese refugees in Malaysia including Chin, Mon, Shan and Kachin were recognized by the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2009, making them eligible for resettlement in third countries.
Of the total, Chin numbered about 5,000 people; Mon, 1,800; followed by Kachin and Shan at about 1,000 and other ethnic groups. Arakan were not recognized this year.
It was first time the UNHCR recognized such a large number of Burmese refugees. Burmese refugees experienced difficulties earlier this year when Thailand launched a crackdown on illegal Burmese migrants attempting to enter the country from the Malaysia-Thai border, said a member of the Alliance of Chin Refugees (ACR).
According to ACR, about 50,000 Chin currently live in Malaysia. An estimated 20,000 Chin have been granted UNHCR refugees status in Malaysia since 2001.
Nai Roi Mon, an official with the Mon Refugee Office (MRO) in Malaysia, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that it processed about 3,000 Mon for UNHCR refugee status.
According to the MRO, no Mon were granted refugee status in 2007, and only 500 were recognized in 2008.
"They have given favorable recognition to children under age 18, especially from families with many children, but no husband. They also favor older men, over 50, as well," he said.
There are about 20,000 Mon living in Malaysia, many illegally, according to the MRO.
"If you have an UNHCR card, if you are arrested the UNHCR can help you during detention. This is an advantage for people who work here," he said.
Burmese refugees recognized by the UNHCR may wait for up to one year or longer for resettlement to third countries.
About 500,000 Burmese migrants work in Malaysia, legally and illegally, according to the Kuala Lumpur-based Burma Workers' Rights Protection Committee.
At the end of October 2009, about 67,800 refugees and asylum-seekers were registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia, according to the UNHCR.
Of those, 62,000 are refugees from Burma, comprising 28,100 Chin, 16,100 Rohingya, 3,700 Burmese Muslims, 2,900 Kachin and other ethnic minorities.
The UNHCR said a large number of Burmese refugees remain unregistered. The refugee community estimates that unregistered refugees and asylum-seekers could number 30,000 people.
Burmese refugees living in Thailand continue to relocated to Malaysia to apply for refugee status. Many pay 18,000 Thai baht (US $500) or more to enter the country illegally.
The Malaysian government has cooperated with the UNHCR on humanitarian grounds since 1975 even though Malaysia has not signed the UN Convention Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Burmese refugees have been sent to third countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, France, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway.