Livelihoods of Refugees and Host Communities in Malaysia


As of June 2021, there are a total of 179,555 refugees and asylum-seekers in Malaysia registered with UNHCR. Rohingyas account for the majority, at 57%, followed by other refugee groups from Myanmar at 28%, and all other groups (including those from Pakistan, Somalia and Syria) at 15% of the total refugee population. Refugees and asylum-seekers are considered as ‘illegal immigrants’, limiting their access to work, financial services, healthcare, education and welfare systems. As a consequence, they tend to seek informal employment which is often underpaid or insecure – without benefits or any protection from exploitation. 

However, as part of the Global Compact for Refugees (GCR), the Government of Malaysia has committed to addressing the situation of refugees. Since 2016, the Government has tried to increase access to work for refugees which included a work pilot project targeting Rohingya refugees, with limited success due to the incompatibility between the work sector and the target population. By generating comparative economic data on refugees and host communities, this study aims to support the development of policies and actions that increase refugees’ access to formal work by providing policy-makers and programmers with reliable data on which to base their decisions. 


Data will be collected through representative surveys of Rohingya, other refugees from Myanmar, refugees from other countries and host communities. Face-to-face surveys will be conducted with heads of households and a pilot survey will also be implemented to test the survey questionnaire before the survey is launched. UNHCR’s Registration Database, ProGres V4 will be used to sample refugees representing the groups registered with UNHCR and residing in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Johor, which account for 80 percent of all refugees in Malaysia. 

Comparative analysis of the socioeconomic situation and the employability of each population (the employment status and economic wellbeing of refugees and Malaysians in the bottom 40% income bracket) will help to reveal the similarities and differences between these two groups. This will provide data to inform labor market policies and livelihood programs that, ultimately, can help increase the inclusion of refugees. The results will be disseminated to key stakeholders within the Malaysian Government, UNHCR, the World Bank and other national and international institutions such as the International Labor Organization, Malaysian Business Associations, and representatives from the refugee community.  The data will also be published on the UNHCR Microdata Library.  


Implementation will be conducted jointly by the World Bank and UNHCR.  


For further details on the JDC support for this activity, please contact: