Malaysian Immigration Giving Refugees to Traffickers, Say Activists

By Vivian Chong

Vivian Chong is the information and communication officer at Kuala Lumpur-based CARAM Asia.


Wednesday ,July 30,2008

KUALA LUMPUR—Activists working on migrant issues here claim that corruption is deeply rooted among some Malaysian immigration officers who are handing over Burmese asylum seekers and refugees to human traffickers.

A former Immigration Department director-general was recently detained by the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) for alleged graft in connection with the issuance of visas to foreign workers.

One 55-year-old Burmese migrant, who asked that his name not be used, said that even though he had documentation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) he was arrested, deported and handed over to traffickers by immigration officials twice.

“The first time I was arrested and deported to Thailand with 105 others. First, the Malaysia immigration officers sold us to the human traffickers. Then, the human traffickers handed us to the brokers.”

“They asked for the phone numbers of our families or friends who would send money to them for our release. If the family or friend didn’t send the money, the refugee would be severely beaten like an animal by the brokers,” Mehn said, describing his ordeal.

The Migration Working Group, a network of more than 20 nongovernmental organizations, says asylum seekers and refugees from Burma are handed over to traffickers at the Malaysia-Thai border, who then demand payment for their release.

“Those who are unable to pay the money required (typically from RM 1,400 to RM 2,500) are ‘sold’—to fishing boats, brothels or ‘private owners’—as bonded laborers or for sex,” activists say.

Women refugees or asylum seekers receive the worst treatment by traffickers, according to activists, who said they may be raped, beaten and sold to brothels.

A network of NGOs, Burmese refugee organizations, local television stations and a few members of Parliament have pushed the issue onto the political stage.

In response, Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar recently announced that the Immigration Department has formed a special committee to investigate the charges.

He said the committee has not found any immigration officials to be involved in trafficking of Burmese.

(Comment: Then, PUNISH THE SPECIAL COMMISSION COMMITTE MEMBERS for covering up the CRIME or for blatant inefficiency. Dr M had done this kind of cover-up and punish Ms Irene Fernendez. If you dare to  just announce the WITNESS PROTECTION programme and to promise to reward any witness with free visa to work anywher for three years or up to the end of the cases they testified. You could get FEW HUNDRED THOUSAND victims twilling to testify as WITNESSES.)

Renuka T. Balasubramaniam, a lawyer who chaired the Migrant and Refugee Working group of the Bar Council’s Human Rights Committee, said she was not in favor of letting an ad hoc committee investigate the matter.
She said Malaysia has an Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 2007 and an Anti-Corruption Act through which persons suspected of human trafficking may be investigated and charged.

“In my view, without further ado, the police or anti-corruption agency, which has all the requisite resources, skills and experience, should commence thorough investigations with a view to determining suspects and charging them before a court. This would also repose greater faith in the independence of the investigation,” she said.
The Migration Working Group said the root of the problem stems from the government’s position of arresting refugees and asylum seekers.

“The unnecessary arrest, detention, whipping and deportation of asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons perpetuates violence and vulnerability, and it constitutes the abuse of human rights and wastes limited law enforcement resources which are desperately needed for the prevention of real crime,” the group said in a statement.

Because Malaysia has not yet enacted domestic laws that recognize the status of asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons, they are treated as non-documented migrants who are subjected to arrest, detention, whipping, imprisonment and deportation to the Malaysia-Thai border.

According to the group, even refugees issued with identity documents by the UNHCR are vulnerable to arrest, because Malaysian enforcement officers do not recognize the validity of the documents.

They said an average of 700 to 800 UNHCR-recognized refugees remain in detention each month, including about 100 children. The UNHCR is not allowed to visit asylum seekers in detention centers and prisons.

“This directly jeopardizes their right to seek asylum, a universal right in international customary law. They are detained indefinitely—sometimes for more than 2 years—suffering violence, poor access to healthcare and poor conditions of detention,” the group said in a statement.

The group said that law enforcement agencies should respect UNHCR documents and refrain from arresting holders of these documents.

“The UNHCR should be given free and full access to asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons in all immigration detention depots and prisons so that they can verify if asylum claims are genuine and take measures to assist refugees.

Recognized refugees should be released into the official care of the UNHCR while durable solutions are found,” the statement said.

Vivian Chong is the information and communication officer at Kuala Lumpur-based CARAM Asia.


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