© P.K. Lee/MSF


In Malaysia, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) continue to offer general healthcare and mental health support to the Rohingya and other refugee communities, despite barriers posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been providing healthcare to stateless Rohingya and other refugee communities in the Malaysian
state of Penang since 2015.

MSF has delivered medical assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers in Malaysia since 2015.

Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and refugees are effectively criminalised by domestic law. They risk arrest and detention, and have limited access to healthcare and protection.

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The lack of legal status leaves them in a state of permanent stress. The constant fear of arrest, detention and even deportation pushes them underground. Most are reluctant to venture outside and delay seeking healthcare, even in emergencies, in case hospital staff report them to immigration services.

Unable to work legally, they often disappear into Malaysia’s urban black-market economy, where they are vulnerable to exploitation, debt bondage or work accidents.

MSF's work in 2020 

In 2020, we worked closely with refugee communities to support the needs they identified. Although COVID-19 temporarily interrupted some of our services, we continued to support refugees, focusing on those affected by the pandemic by distributing food and supplying medicines.

We provided general healthcare, health education, psychosocial support and counselling via mobile clinics and a fixed clinic in Penang, in partnership with the local NGO ACTS. We also collaborated with local clinics and public hospitals to refer patients with specialised needs. 

Arnaud Finistre

In partnership with MERCY Malaysia and SUKA Society, we work in several immigration detention centres.

As well as offering general healthcare and mental health support, we distribute hygiene and relief items, such as soap, sanitary pads and nappies, for the detainees.

Muhammad, 25, a Rohingya refugee, is a construction worker on a condominium project in the Bayan Lepas district of Penang. He shares very basic accommodation on the site with other workers. Malaysia, April 2019.

Through our advocacy and liaison activities, we assist refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. We refer asylum seekers to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, for assessment of their refugee status and continue to appeal for safe disembarkation of Rohingya refugees in distress at sea.

In June, we provided medical care and counselling to Rohingya boat refugees on the island of Langkawi. Publicly, MSF called on the authorities to introduce a ‘healthcare for all’ response to COVID-19 and update laws so that no refugees or asylum seekers are penalised and detained for seeking medical care, including COVID-19 testing and treatment