The United Nations refugee agency has welcomed Malaysia's decision to grant temporary stay permits to ethnic Burmese Muslims fleeing their homeland.

A spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the action will regularize the situation of the Rohingyas, who until now were considered illegal immigrants, subject to arrest and deportation.

The agency estimates there are some 10,000 Rohingyas from North Rakhine State in Burma living in Malaysia. Many of them arrived during the 1990s.

They will be given documents allowing them to stay in Malaysia until UN officials can find them homes in third countries.