More than 100,000 asylum seekers were celebrating yesterday after the Malaysian government decided to issue them official identification documents and work permits. While the decision does not grant refugee status to the asylum seekers, UNHCR officials saw it as a major concession from a country that has not ratified the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees. Malaysia barely tolerates asylum seekers, who face arrest as illegal migrant workers. They include Jaafar Abdul, a Rohingya from Myanmar who drives a truck delivering ice to food vendors. 'I don't have to hide like a thief anymore,' said Jaafar Abdul, 43. Like thousands of other Rohingyas, Jaafar Abdul travelled overland from Myanmar, illegally entering Malaysia in 1993. He wound up a stateless person, unable to return home with no third country willing to take him. More than 100,000 Asian asylum seekers in Malaysia who share Jaafar Abdul's plight are now cheering the government's largesse. The decision covers about 16,000 Rohingyas, 60,000 Moros from the Philippines, 20,000 Acehnese and 12,000 Cambodian Muslims, as well as other ethnic groups. However, the new policy does not include thousands of their compatriots who are classified as illegal workers by the government. 'A mechanism has to be developed to distinguish between genuine refugees and opportunists,' said Nazri Aziz, the minister overseeing refugees who announced the new policy. But critics say the move panders to demands from the manufacturing and agricultural sectors for cheap labour to plug a large shortfall created by the government's ongoing campaign to deport over a million illegal immigrants, mostly Indonesians. About 2.6 million of the country's 10.5 million workers are foreigners, both legal and illegal. The government admits the two sectors need an influx of about 500,000 workers. 'Since we have refugees and many are unemployed, why not use them to overcome the shortage?' Mr Nazri said.