Champion of the refugees requested PM not to ignore Burmese refugees

Champion of the refugees requested PM not to ignore Burmese refugees  

 Malaysiakini news

May 14, 08 1:24pm

 Even as Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi pledges humanitarian aid to cyclone-ravaged Burma, he should not forget the Burmese refugees in Malaysia who face a number of serious problems. 




Migrant workers lobby group Tenaganita said the government, through people’s volunteer corps Rela, cannot continue to oppress and repress the refugees at gunpoint, as done by the military junta that rules Burma.

tenaganita rubber board plantation workers plight 130807 irene








 Director Irene Fernandez said in a statement today that “more than 60,000 Burmese refugees with children are being hunted down with a form of vengeance by Rela and the immigration department”.

 “They are mercilessly arrested and detained (under) inhuman conditions in various immigration detention centres,” she stated.


 She said the riots at the Lenggeng centre on April 21 was reflective of the “harsh treatment… and mismanagement of the camps by immigration and Rela authorities”.


 She said the riots at the Lenggeng centre on April 21 was reflective of the “harsh treatment… and mismanagement of the camps by immigration and Rela authorities”.

Fernandez also cited a local television report which alleged the involvement of enforcement officers in trafficking men, women and children from the refugee community during the deportation process to the Thailand border.

“(This) smacks of embedded corruption and blatant arrogance and abuse of power of the enforcement agencies,” she said.

“To date, the home minister has not made public the investigations carried out on these agencies and what steps are being taken to make them accountable.”

‘Increase in arrests’

She claimed that arrests, abuse and sale of refugees have increased, causing even greater fear of “this form of state violence and repression”.

 “Why are we arresting them and selling them as slaves or threatening them with deportation to Burma when we know that their lives will be at great risk, even of death? Is this not brutally inhuman?

“Knowing very well the deep political crisis in Burma and now, with the catastrophe (caused by) Cyclone Nargis …We should start our humanitarian response to the refugees here by stopping arrests of all refugees and going further to recognise them as refugees.”

rohingya refugeesTenaganita also urged Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar to investigate the continued abuse and alleged trafficking of refugees, as well as complaints of corruption and other reports against Rela and immigration officials.

“It is only in recognising the truth and acting to redress the intense human rights violations perpetrated against the refugee community that we can regain our humanity as a nation,” she added.

Cyclone Nargis, which struck the Irrawaddy delta in Burma on May 2, has caused extensive destruction. At least 30,000 people have died and 1.5 million are in desperate need of food, water and shelter.

Malaysia is among countries that have sent essential supplies to Burma to help with immediate relief efforts.

 Meanwhile, Amnesty International Malaysia calls on the government to review its policy on the non-recognition of Burmese refugees in this country.

“The government in its response to provide assistance to Burma must not ignore its responsibility and commitment to the rights and humanitarian needs of thousands of refugees who fled human rights violations and persecution in Burma seeking protection right here in our country,” said Amnesty campaign coordinator K Shan.

“The Malaysian government must take note that Burmese refugees continue to face arrest, detention, prosecution and deplorable living conditions here in Malaysia as a result of the government’s refusal to recognise and protect refugees and to treat them as illegal immigrants.”


Burmese refugees face wretched existence


Living in miserable camps not far from the glittering Petronas Twin Towers, Burmese refugees are some of the most wretched of the hundreds of thousands who have fled their homeland.]

 “We are living here like prisoners, we cannot go out anywhere because we are frightened,” says 35-year-old James Munerlian, a Christian pastor from Burma’s Chin state who fled persecution by the military regime.

Munerlian is the leader of a 100-strong group of men, women and children who live a precarious existence in a secret encampment in one of the patches of jungle that still remain among Kuala Lumpur’s suburbs.

The half-hour trek there takes a visitor past an almost completed luxury housing project, over hilly and mosquito-infested terrain, through an illegal rubbish damp and across a riverbed reeking with sewage.

In a clearing, the Chin refugees huddle into eight huts made with sheets of zinc and cardboard, and draped with pieces of plastic.

They escaped Burma on foot in the hope of finding a better life, but instead are exploited by unscrupulous employers and harassed by Malaysia’s controversial volunteer security corps which hunts down illegal migrants.

Michael Boak Tun Thang, a 26-year-old farmer from northern Chin state, came to Malaysia in early 2006 and has been hiding in various jungle camps ever since.

“The junta came to my village with rifles. Because there were only a few men, they ordered all the boys and also the women to become porters and carry their foods and boxes,” he says.

“They raped all the women, even my sister, but I could not do anything. We carried the heavy things but they never paid us or gave us any meals.”

Late one night, Tun Thang was freed by men from a nearby village, but the last time he saw his sister she was a walking skeleton and he has not heard from her since.

Refugee advocates say the camp is just one of hundreds in the capital and around the country that have sprung up in patches of jungles, near agricultural plantations and on the fringes of coastal villages.

Some luckier ones have managed to find cheap housing, and live packed a dozen to a room.

“Malaysia has become one of the worst places for Burmese asylum seekers because of the way the government and its enforcers have brutalised and abused refugees,” says Debbie Stothard from human rights group Altsean Burma.

“Large groups of refugees are in hiding around the country and they are penniless and desperate,” she adds, using Burma’s former name.

United States data in 2006 listed Burma as the world’s third largest source of refugees after Afghanistan and Iraq, with at least 700,000 people having fled the country.

“Ten years ago, Burmese refugees were unheard of in most Asian countries with the exception of Thailand which shares a very porous border with the country,” Stothard says.

“But today, the situation is so bad that there are large numbers of refugees escaping to China, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Malaysia.

“Many of these refugees end up being illegal migrants because the Burmese government does not provide passports to most of its people and refuse to recognise them as citizens if they leave the country illegally.”

Living on the run

The Malaysian government says there are about 25,644 Burmese asylum-seekers in the country but refugee groups believe the real figure is more than double that.

The majority are Rohingya Muslims from Burma’s Rakhine state while the rest are Christian Chins, Karens and Shan.

In the Chin jungle camp, they knew nothing of the massive September street protests, led by Buddhist monks, in Burma’s main city Rangoon which were violently suppressed by the regime, triggering international outrage.

Chin Refugee Centre coordinator Paul Lian says most Burmese refugees in Malaysia work illegally on building sites or plantations and face beatings, extortion and exploitation from employers.

“The groups are in very bad shape as they have no money, no food and fear for their safety,” he says, adding that as they have no rights they are either not paid at all or given a pittance.

Another camp dweller, 43-year-old Peter Thant Tum who has been on the run for the past three years, just wants a chance at leading a normal life.

“If the Malaysia government has consideration, please give us legal documents and allow us to work, to earn money and eat, our lives will be more happy,” he says.

However, Malaysia is already fending off a mass influx of Indonesian workers – both legal and illegal – and has no intention of allowing Burmese refugees to make their home here too.

“The impact on our country in many terms will be great if we open our doors and declare these foreigners as refugees,” Foreign Affairs parliamentary secretary Ahmad Shabery Cheek was quoted as saying recently.

“If we provide illegal immigrants… with jobs, our own people will lose out in employment opportunities.”

Beaten senseless

Crackdowns on illegal migrants are carried out by the volunteer Rela corps, a notorious uniformed brigade accused of rampant human rights abuses.

“We don’t have any security, our brothers they go to the market but then the Rela men, they stop us and they demand money,” Thant Tum says.

“They don’t want to arrest us because they know they will have to feed us and take care of us so they only demand money from us and beat us very badly.”

Just days after speaking to AFP, Thant Tum says Rela officers stopped him at a market and demanded the money he had on him – RM100 – which was the camp’s weekly food budget. He refused and was beaten senseless.

“It is outrageous and tragic that many of these refugees who fled brutality and torture in Burma should now have to put up with extortion from Rrla. How can we accept this?” asks Stothard.

Rela’s Kuala Lumpur director Mohammad Aminuddin Mohammad Yusof says the force does not condone acts of brutality and corruption.

“Our men are there to help immigration authorities detain illegal immigrants and overstayers so our first duty is to detain these individuals, not extort money from them,” he said.

“There might be such cases of abuse because Rela is a volunteer force but give us evidence of these corrupt acts and details and we will investigate and prosecute the offenders.”