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An intergovernmental organization established in 1951, IOM is committed to the principle that humane and orderly migration benefits migrants and society.

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Capital Kuala Lumpur
Population (2013): 29.7 million
Area:  330,803 km sq
Languages :  Bahasa Malaysia
Currency:  Malaysian Ringgit (MYR)
GDP per Capita PPP  (2013): USD 23,298
HDI Rank (2013): 62 of 187
Remittances (2013 estimate):  USD 1,443 million
Net Migration Rate (2010-2015):     3.1 migrants/1,000 population
Immigrants (2013):  8.3%
Women as a Percentage of Immigrants  (2013): 41.3%
Population under 15 (2013): 26%
Adult HIV Prevalence (2013):  0.44%
Sources and Definitions

Historical overview

IOM has helped over a million refugees worldwide to resettle in new countries. Photo: IOM, 1976.

IOM first became active in Malaysia in the late 1970s during the Indochinese refugee crisis. As a member of the Malaysian National Security Council's Working Group on Resettlement, IOM provided medical screening and transportation assistance for refugees leaving Malaysia. Refugee resettlement from Malaysia continued until 1994. When resettlement operations ended, IOM continued to help the Malaysian government in implementing an Assisted Voluntary Return Programme for unsuccessful asylum seekers. IOM also assisted various Malaysian government agencies, in cooperation with the Economic Planning Unit, Prime Minister's Department, under the German Integrated Expert Programme between 1984 and 1995.

IOM's current activities in Malaysia

Number of IOM assisted departures from Malaysia, 2005-2010
Figure 1: Number of IOM assisted departures from Malaysia, 2005-2010

In 2005, IOM was asked by several of its member states to assist in facilitating the resettlement of refugees from Malaysia, many of whom were from Myanmar. It was also asked to assist stranded migrants and victims of trafficking who wished to return home voluntarily from Malaysia.

As shown in Figure 1, the number of IOM-assisted departures from Malaysia has dramatically increased from 579 in 2005 to 8,172 in 2010.

The Government of Malaysia has played an active role in regional migration management related processes and workshops under the Bali Process, for which IOM is the secretariat. The IOM team in Kuala Lumpur currently comprises 30 staff, and includes physicians, medical support staff, laboratory technicians, cultural orientation trainers, IT technicians, and operations and administrative staff.

Movement assistance

IOM staff help refugees at Kuala Lumpur Airport. Photo: Frederick Leong/IOM, 2008.
IOM staff help refugees at Kuala Lumpur Airport. Photo: Frederick Leong/IOM, 2008.

In coordination with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), resettlement country embassies, the Malaysian Immigration Department and other concerned government departments, IOM has since 2005 facilitated the resettlement of over 20,600 refugees to 11 countries, including Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. Departure of refugees to countries of resettlement is projected to reach levels of 9,000 to 10,000 annually in the years to come. IOM has also arranged the voluntary return of stranded migrants to over 20 countries, and the return of victims of human trafficking to their countries of origin including Cambodia, Indonesia, Mongolia, Myanmar and Thailand. The return of these migrants is carefully coordinated with IOM offices and counterparts in the countries of origin/return, to make sure that assisted migrants receive the support they need for successful reintegration.

IOM assists resettlement countries and countries of return to arrange interviews, makes travel arrangements in coordination with the IOM office in the receiving country, arranges exit formalities, and organizes departure and transit assistance at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. IOM has a global agreement with Malaysia Airline Systems (MAS), which facilitates its arrangement of travel for those it assists.

Medical and Health Related Assistance

An IOM doctor assesses the health of a refugee bound for the USA. Photo: Frederick Leong/IOM, 2008.

IOM doctors perform physical examinations to assess the health of each refugee and identify medical conditions that may require treatment prior to departure or intervention after resettlement. Refugees are also x-rayed and their blood tested to identify infectious diseases. Blood samples are processed at an IOM-assisted mycobacteriology laboratory in Kuala Lumpur.

IOM has been designated to operate a satellite TB treatment center by the Malaysian Ministry of Health for refugees accepted for resettlement. Refugees who are to be resettled and are identified with active tuberculosis are treated with Directly Observed Therapy (DOT) under IOM supervision. Prior to departure, IOM doctors ensure refugees are fit to travel prior to their departure to countries of resettlement. When required, IOM also provides medical escorts.

Beyond refugee resettlement, IOM is seeking a dialogue with the Malaysian Ministry of Health on issues of migration and health. One such issue that has public health implications for the wider Malaysian population involves the treatment and prevention of communicable diseases among undocumented migrant populations.


Cultural Orientation

Refugees in a cultural orientation class are asked to write down what they know about their resettlement country. Photo: Peter Salnikowski/IOM, 2008.
Refugees in a cultural orientation class are asked to write down what they know about their resettlement country. Photo: Peter Salnikowski/IOM, 2008.

The IOM cultural orientation (CO) team in Malaysia provides CO classes to refugees bound for Australia. Over 10,000 refugees have attended IOM CO classes since 2005. These have a duration of 3 to 5 days, take place in an interactive and student-centered learning environment, and cover essential information that refugees need for successful integration in their resettlement country.

Topics covered during the CO classes include children's education, health, legal systems, transportation and how to get jobs. Special curricula have been developed for children, families, youth, singles and parents. Toddlers and infants are provided with daycare, while their parents attend the CO classes. IOM also provides logistical assistance to CO trainers from other resettlement countries who come to Malaysia to conduct CO classes.

Migration Management

18 Asia-Pacific countries participated in the Regional Conference on Labour Migration Management. Photo: IOM, 2008.
18 Asia-Pacific countries participated in the Regional Conference on Labour Migration Management. Photo: IOM, 2008.

Malaysia participates in two regional processes – the Bali Process and the Colombo Process – for which IOM serves as the Secretariat. The Bali Process is a regional cooperation mechanism to combat people smuggling, trafficking in persons and related transnational crime. Malaysia has been a member since its launch in 2002.

Malaysia also participates in the Colombo Process on the Management of Overseas Employment and Contractual Labour for Countries of Origin in Asia, as a labour receiving country. In 2008, with 19 other countries, it signed the Abu Dhabi Declaration on Overseas Employment and Contractual Labour for Countries of Origin and Destination in Asia. Malaysian officials also regularly participate in a variety of migration management training workshops that IOM organizes in the region and beyond.

IOM Director General, Mr. William Lacy Swing and Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, Dato’ Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil visited the Women Shelter in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo: IOM 2010
Twenty-six Malaysian Shelter workers from the Malaysian Government and NGOs participated in the “Provision of Assistance for Victims of Trafficking” workshop in Port Dickson, Malaysia. Photo: IOM 2011

Counter Trafficking

IOM Malaysia’s counter trafficking project, funded by the Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration, of the US Department of State began in October 2010. It supports the Government of Malaysia to improve its protection of victims of trafficking and to fulfill the objectives of the National Plan of Action against human trafficking.

From October 2010 until December 2010, IOM conducted an assessment of the three government shelters and two NGO shelters for victims of trafficking in peninsular Malaysia. IOM wrote an assessment report detailing the assessment’s findings and recommendations, which was presented to the Council for Anti-Trafficking in Persons of Malaysia (MAPO), including the Minister of Home Affairs and the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development. The assessment identified the following key priorities for improving the protection of victims of trafficking in Malaysia: capacity building for shelter staff and managers, improved psychosocial support for victims, the addition of victim treatment and shelter management guidelines to the shelters’ standard operating procedures, and the enhancement of shelter activities and services.

IOM Malaysia is carrying out the following activities to support the Government of Malaysia in addressing these priorities:

  • To support capacity building, up to June 2011, IOM trained 44 shelter staff in the provision of victim assistance and 50 policemen from Malaysia and ASEAN countries and 25 employees of the Ministry of Home Affairs of Malaysia on the basics of anti-trafficking. IOM will train Malaysia’s labour inspectors on the basics of anti-trafficking and how to interview victims of trafficking. IOM will also provide capacity building support to the MAPO Labour Trafficking Sub-committee established under the Malaysian Anti-Trafficking Committee.
  • To assess the psychosocial needs of victims, in February 2010, IOM conducted a rapid mental health assessment of the victims and staff members in one government shelter and will do the same at the other government shelters for adults. The assessment in the first shelter found that about half of the victims had serious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), while 25 per cent had either a probable diagnosis or were of clinical concern regarding PTSD. 37 per cent of the victims showed anxiety scores in the abnormal range, while 28 per cent were borderline. Similarly, 34 per cent of the victims were found to have depression, with 17 per cent borderline cases. The report recommended increased access to mental health services for victims and the initiation of activities at the shelters. Through its US Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration-funded project, IOM is supporting the government of Malaysia to implement these recommendations.
  • To support improved psychosocial care for victims, IOM will hold training on providing psychosocial support for victims of trafficking for social workers at the three government shelters for adults.
  • In June 2011, IOM held a workshop with 19 policy makers and shelter managers to strengthen the standard operating procedures for shelter homes.
  • IOM staff is working with the Government of Malaysia in its creation of new shelter activities. IOM has donated crochet needles and yarn to the women’s shelter and is helping encourage victims to cook some of their own meals. IOM is also working with the government to try to identify some income-earning opportunities for the victims during their stay in the shelters.
  • IOM is also providing victims of trafficking in Malaysia with assistance to return home.

Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration

Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) is about helping migrants to plan their return and prepare for the conditions they might expect in their country of origin.

IOM and UNHCR Malaysia work together on the identification, facilitation and assistance of irregular migrants who wish to return to their home country.

Migrants have been assisted to return home to Afghanistan, Iran, Nepal, Peru, Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Last updated:
Main text: July 2011
Facts and figures: August 2014

Migration Initiatives