By P Prem Kumar
KUALA LUMPUR (AA) - Malaysia has received its second group of refugees from war torn Syria, with 68 people aged between seven months and 74 years old flying into its capital Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.
The group from Bekaa Valley Camp in Beirut, Lebanon, join 11 people from three families who arrived in Malaysia on Dec. 8, last year based on a voluntary commitment by the country on humanitarian grounds.
The 68 from 18 families landed at the Royal Malaysia Air Force base, where they were received by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
Speaking to reporters, Hamidi -- also home minister -- said Malaysia is aiming to give temporary shelter to 500 Syrian migrants by the end of this year.
"During the fasting month, we are targeting another 200 migrants to be brought to Malaysia but this will be subject to security and health screening process," said Hamidi.
Saturday's second group will be placed in three-room apartments near Kuala Lumpur, with temporary work permits issued to those from a professional background.
Students will be issued with visas to enable them to seek educational opportunities.
"Some non-governmental organizations will help us with their placement and see to their welfare and other aspects," Hamidi said.
In October 2015, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that Malaysia would open its doors to 3,000 Syrian migrants over a three-year period during a speech at the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Five Syrian families have arrived in Malaysia to-date, all screened through the Advance Passenger Screening System with the cooperation of Interpol and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Malaysia is expected to take in 1,000 Syrian refugees every year from 2016 to 2018, but with proper security surveillance of each individual.
This has occurred even though the country has said it has no intention to sign up to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 and Protocol 1967.
It has stressed, however, that it will continue to extend assistance to Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and refugees from the Middle East.
Malaysia currently hosts one of the largest urban refugee populations in the world.
As of 2014, some 146,020 refugees and asylum seekers had been registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia, of which the vast majority -- 135,000 -- are from Myanmar.
The vast majority of them are China, Rohingya and other Myanmar Muslims.