CHRO

Ethics in Working with Refugees: Community Perspectives and Principles of Partnership
Asia Pacific Regional Consultation on Refugee Rights

Kuala Lumpur
20-21 November 2008
Victor Biak Lian, Chin Human Rights Organization

 

Good afternoon: It is indeed a pleasure to be a part of this important conference, and especially to be a panellist on this particular session. Being a refugee myself for many years and having worked with refugee communities in many different contexts, including here in Malaysia, I have come across a wide range of important ethical issues and dilemmas that need to be addressed in order to more effectively meet the challenges facing refugees. Of course I do realize that there is no one single ethical formula to work with refugees; but I believe that two important considerations do stand out –that our work should depend on the needs and wants of refugees themselves, and that respect and dignity should be the underpinning principles when working with refugees.

My discussion today will be based largely on my experiences with Burmese refugees in India, Thailand and here in Malaysia as well as my own life as a refugee. Burma arguably is the largest refugee-producing country in the region, and it is predictable from the worsening trends in human rights and humanitarian situations inside the country in recent months that more people will continue to cross into neighbouring countries. The 65 years jail sentences handed down last week to pro-democracy activists was the latest example of how dangerous life is inside Burma for both ordinary citizens and those wishing to exercise their fundamental freedoms. The military regime is now embarking on a brutal mission to eliminate any voice of dissent before the year 2010 planned elections. In eastern Burma, fresh military offensive against the Karens, once again are forcing thousands of civilians to flee across the border into Thailand or are being internally displaced. In western Burma, hundreds of people from Chin State are fleeing to neighbouring India due to severe shortages of food due to bamboo flowering that occur every 50 years, a natural tragedy is made worse by ongoing practice of forced labour and arbitrary policies of the regime.

 An effective regional response to refugee problems is a necessity given the continuing trend of steady outflow from a country like Burma. The challenges are immense, but there are only so few actors, both within individual countries and regionally to meet the needs and demands of ever increasing number of forced migrants in the region.

Unfortunately, more governments in the Asia-Pacific region are not only Non-signatory to international treaties relating to the status of refugees, but do not have specific national legislation that protects the rights of refugees. The very few civil society groups that exist in the region are overwhelmed or under-resourced to effectively meet the needs of refugees in the region. This is understandably a difficult challenge, especially when there is only a very limited space for civil society groups to freely manoeuvre, and when the policies of their governments are hostile to the rights of refugees. But again, this is not to say such situations justify inaction.

The UNHCR has been virtually the main international actor when it comes to refugees in the region. This is especially commendable since more governments in the region are not a signatory to the UNHCR statutes on refugees. This is why a civil society initiative is greatly needed in the region.

Having said that, I think that even within the limited space, it is important that more civil society groups in the Asia-Pacific region put focus on refugee issues as part of their larger human rights work. At the same time, those who are already engaged in providing services to refugees should also remind themselves of the need to recognize the importance of incorporating the principles of partnership, a sense of respect and dignity in their work with refugees. What is often missed, in my opinion, is the basic fact that refugees are human beings, who deserve the same respect and dignity as every other human being. The fact is that many time service providers tend to forget that beneficiaries of their services are partners to their programmes. This kind of practice by both civil society groups and intergovernmental agencies responsible for provision and protection of refugees often serves to undermine the goodwill and purpose of their own services.

Another important factor, and this is especially true for Burmese refugees in Malaysia, is that access to certain services are different for those who are recognized by UNHCR and those who are not. This is an area of great concern for refugee communities. Unrecognized refugees find themselves in a very difficult situation when it comes to dealing with hospitals and other health related services in times of sickness. For example, only recognized refugees in Malaysia are eligible for treatment. Recognition also provides some protection during immigration raids, arrests, and potential deportation to the border. This is very unfortunate because the only thing that differentiates them is a piece of paper that identifies them as a person who has registered with or is recognized by the UNHCR. They all fled the same circumstances, but the majority of people unfortunately do not enjoy the same kind of protection and services as those who are fortunate enough to be registered with or recognized by UNHCR. This is an area that needs to be looked at more seriously by all actors if more people are to be protected. Burmese refugees in Malaysia often refer to UNHCR papers as “certificate of recognition as a human being.” This is sad because what this essentially means is that they are really nobody or not a human being unless they get recognized. Ultimately, this creates a diminished sense of self-respect, dignity and worth among the refugees.

As you know, Thailand hosts the largest number of refugees from Burma. There are at least 150, 000 refugees in different camps along the Thai-Burma borders. Many of you might have heard about the comparison of a “human zoo” to situations in these camps or “human warehousing.”

Refugees are too often regarded as mere labels, abstract numbers or even as sub-human at times. Unfortunately, these views and negative perceptions are unwittingly reinforced by the very people who are there to help and protect them. This is why education and public awareness programs are extremely important as part of a long term strategy for the protection of refugees in the region. But such efforts need to start from within members of civil society groups and other pertinent actors by adopting a more ethical approach in their work with refugees.

In this context, I strongly believe that a rights-based approach is necessary in order to ensure the success of any programs or services for refugees. Key ingredients of this approach, in my opinion, should include such basic concepts as dignity and respect, consultation and principles of partnership. Appearing condescending is a risk service providers should always be aware of to ensure a viable and successful service provision.

Before I conclude this discussion, I think it is necessary to mention very briefly about the community initiatives that are evolving here in Malaysia, for an example to highlight how imperative it is to work with such community-based initiatives. Since not everyone here is familiar about the refugee situation in Malaysia, I will just give a brief history. The Chins are one of the first ethnic groups from Burma to start coming to Malaysia as refugees. In 2001 we found that there were large numbers of Chin in Malaysia. Because there were few, if any, Malaysian NGOs working with these people, it became necessary to establish some structure to assist those coming from Burma. That is when the Chin Refugee Center was formed, which is still functioning and serving the Chin people today. The purpose of CRC is to register Chins coming from Burma, help bring their cases to UNHCR, and provide much-needed services to the community. Through CRC, the Chin community began to work closely with the UNHCR to ensure Chin could receive refugee recognition. Because the Chin children could not receive an education in the Malaysian schools, CRC set up informal schools. They also began providing health services to ensure the sick could access clinics and hospitals in Malaysia. They also have a shelter for at risk women and children. When a Chin is arrested or a neighbourhood is raided by immigration, the CRC provides assistance. This is just some of the things the CRC center is doing.

But the Chin are not the only community from Burma here in Malaysia today who are now organized and helping their own communities. All the ethnic groups from Burma have replicated the Chin model and are now providing similar services to their respective communities. This is very important since there is no one better to provide services to these communities than the communities themselves. This cannot be disputed.

Despite all these great works the communities have arranged on their own, they are also struggling for their own survival here. But they are not receiving the support they need to ensure their communities are properly cared for and protected. Many have very little resources of their own to provide for their communities. For this reason, we have initiated the Burma Ethnic Assistance Program (BEAP) last year. BEAP is a self-formed coalition representing the seven ethnic communities from Burma living in Malaysia. Through BEAP, the hope is that these communities will be able to strengthen their capacity to provide for themselves, learn from each other, and benefit from a unified front. BEAP is still very much a work-in-progress and its success depends greatly on support from Malaysian NGOs that are represented here today as well as UNHCR. However, this is the kind of bottom-up community initiative that, if adequately supported, has the potential to become a model project for the support of refugee communities.

In Thailand, we have learned that this is possible. The services in the refugee camps set up on the Thai-Burma border are fully provided for by the refugee communities themselves with the support of NGOs. As the Malaysian NGOs come together and become more organized and more interested in the refugee issues, it is important to work with and sometimes defer to the communities themselves. Any other model can be disempowering, demoralizing, and detrimental for the communities.

I also would like to bring to your attention about Burmese refugees in India. As I noticed that some of Indian NGOs are here in this conference and they may be able to add some of the points I miss to mention here. As you know, India host the larger refugees from Sri Lanka and Tibet as concerned refugees of the Government of India while cases of Afghanis and Burmese, Somali and a few other countries such as Iranian are determined by UNHCR as refugee. UNHCR is dealing with Burmese refugees who are able to approach UNHCR office in Delhi while thousands of refugees from Burma especially the Chin refugees in Mizoram are not enjoying the services and protection of any kind. They often get arrested as foreigner case and sometime they got deportation to Burma by the local authority. The presence of UNHCR is not allowed in the North eastern India.

Finally, the needs are simply too great and the challenges are enormous. But I believe that through a regional initiative such as this important conference, a more effective response to refugee problems will emerge in the region.

Thank you.

Victor Biak Lian

 

 

At least 200 Chin villages along the borders with India and Bangladesh, totaling no less than 100,000 people or roughly twenty per cent of the entire population of Chin State, is directly affected by the food shortage as a result of bamboo flowering and rat infestations that occured every 50 years in the region. According to latest information, at least 200 families from southern Chin State have fled to Mizoram and Bangldesh. Please see detail report “CRITICAL POINT: Food Scarcity and Hunger in Burma’s Chin State”.

 

Chin Human Rights Organization is calling for urgent and concerted international relief efforts to address growing humanitarian crisis in Chinland that has brought much devastation to hundreds of villages along Burma`s western border.

 

Chin communities around the world and the Primate World Relief and Development Fund have responded the CHRO’ call for action and provided life saving food assistance to 69 villages through cross border assistance. There are more than hundreds of villages waiting for help while they are strugling their day to day life by digging roots and picking leaf in the jungle.

 

To help and learn more about the situation, please contact;

Salai Bawi Lian Mang (CHRO Executive Director)

 

Email: [email protected] e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Tel: +1-510-332-0983

 

Victor Biak Lian (CHRO Member of Board of Director)

 

Email: [email protected] e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Tel: +66-815300702

 

Amy Alexander (CHRO Regional Advocacy and Campaign Officer)

Email: [email protected] e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Tel: +66.85.23.02.609

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cyclone Nargis that devastated Burma killed more than 120,000 people and made 2.5 million homeless according to the United Nations. Among them, no less than 1000 Chin families in Rangoon and the Delta regions were affected.

 

Chin community and Churches around the world hold prayer services and are actively making donations to support survivors of cyclone Nargis. With the supports from Swedish Refugee Aid, the Chin Human Rights Organization assisted more than three hundred families of the Cylone victims in Rangoon areas with emergency food, water and midical suplies. If you would like to support Chin community those who survived the cyclone in Rangoon and the Delta region please contact CHRO at;

 

Chin Human Rights Organization

2-Monta Vista Ave.

Nepean, ON K2J 2L3

Canada

 

Email: [email protected] e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

The following international organizations are some of the agencies actively helping those affected by the cyclone in Burma

 

Action Against Hunger

247 W. 37th St., 10th Floor

New York, NY 10018

(877) 777-1420

http://support.actionagainsthunger.org/donate

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American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

JDC: Myanmar Cyclone Relief

P.O. Box 530

132 East 43rd St.

New York, NY 10017

(212) 687-6200

Home

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American Jewish World Service

45 W. 36th St., 11th Floor

New York, NY 10016

(800) 889-7146

http://www.ajws.org

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American Red Cross

International Response Fund

P.O. Box 37243

Washington, DC 20013

(800) HELP-NOW

http://www.redcross.org

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American Refugee Committee

430 Oak Grove St., Suite 204

Minneapolis, MN 55403

(612) 872-7602

http://www.arcrelief.org

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AmeriCares

88 Hamilton Ave.

Stamford, CT 06902

(800) 486-4357

Americares | Earthquake in Puerto Rico — Helping and healing in days of hundreds of aftershocks

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Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team

6810 Tilden Lane

Rockville, MD 20852

(301) 984-0217

http://www.amurt.net

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Baptist World Aid

Myanmar (or Burma) Relief

405 North Washington St.

Falls Church, VA 22046

(703) 790-8980

http://www.bwanet.org

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CARE

151 Ellis Street N.E.

Atlanta, GA 30303

(800) 521-2273

http://www.care.org

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CHF International

8601 Georgia Ave., #800

Silver Spring, MD 20910

(866) 779-2CHF

http://www.chfinternational.org

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Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC)

2850 Kalamazoo Ave., S.E.

Grand Rapids, MI 49560-0600

(800) 55-CRWRC

http://www.crwrc.org

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Church World Service

28606 Phillips St., P.O. Box 968

Elkhart, IN 46515

(800) 297-1516

http://www.churchworldservice.org

 

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Concern Worldwide U.S.

104 East 40th St., Suite 903

New York, NY 10016

(212) 557-8000

http://www.concernusa.org

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Direct Relief International

27 South La Patera Lane

Santa Barbara, CA 93117

(805) 964-4767

http://www.directrelief.org

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Episcopal Relief and Development

815 Second Ave., 7th Floor

New York, NY 10017

(800) 334-7626

http://www.er-d.org

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Food for the Hungry

1224 East Washington St.

Phoenix, AZ 85034

(800) 248-6437

HOME: Sponsor A Child

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Habitat for Humanity International

Cyclone Nargis

121 Habitat St.

Americus, GA 31709-3498

(800) HABITAT

http://www.habitat.org

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International Medical Corps

1919 Santa Monica Blvd.

Suite 400

Santa Monica, CA 90404

(800) 481-4462

http://www.imcworldwide.org

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International Relief Teams

Attn: Myanmar Cyclone

4560 Alvarado Canyon Road, Suite 2G

San Diego, CA 92120

(619) 284-7979

http://www.irteams.org

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International Rescue Committee

(Note on checks: Myanmar)

P.O. Box 96651

Washington, DC 20090-6651

(877) REFUGEE

http://www.theIRC.org

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Latter-day Saint Charities

50 East North Temple, 7th Floor

Salt Lake City, UT 84150

(800) 453-3860, ext. 23544

http://www.lds.org

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Lutheran World Relief

P.O. Box 17061

Baltimore, MD 21298-9832

(800) 597-5972

http://www.lwr.org

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MAP International

Donor Member Services

Myanmar Assistance

P.O. Box 7020

Albert Lea, MN 56007-9931

(800) 225-8550

http://www.map.org

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Operation USA

Memo “Myanmar Cyclone”

3617 Hayden Ave., Suite A

Culver City, CA 90232

(800) 678-7255

http://www.opusa.org

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Project HOPE

255 Carter Hall Lane

Millwood, VA 22646

(800) 544-4673

http://www.projecthope.org

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Relief International

1575 Westwood Blvd., Suite 200

Los Angeles, CA 90024

(310) 478-1200

http://www.ri.org

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Save the Children USA

54 Wilton Road

Westport, CT 06880

(800) 728-3843

http://www.savethechildren.org

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United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)

#3019674 Myanmar Emergency

P.O. Box 9068

New York, NY 10087

(800) 554-8583

http://www.umcor.org

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Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

UUSC-UUA Burma Cyclone Relief Fund

P.O. Box 845259

Boston, MA 02284-5259

(800) 388-3920

Home

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U.S. Fund for UNICEF

125 Maiden Lane, 11th Floor

New York, NY 10038

(800) 4UNICEF

http://www.unicefusa.org

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World Concern

19303 Fremont Ave. North

Seattle, WA 98133

(800) 755-5022, ext.7706

http://www.worldconcern.org

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World Emergency Relief

P.O. Box 131570

Carlsbad, CA 92013

(888) 484-4543

http://www.worldemergencyrelief.org

World Vision

P.O. Box 9716

Federal Way, WA 98063

(888) 56-CHILD

Live Homepage

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Action Against Hunger

247 W. 37th St., 10th Floor

New York, NY 10018

(877) 777-1420

support.actionagainsthunger.org/donate

 

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ADRA International

Myanmar Cyclone Fund

12501 Old Columbia Pike

Silver Spring, MD 20904

(800) 424-ADRA Ext. 2372

Home

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American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

JDC: Myanmar Cyclone Relief

P.O. Box 530

132 East 43rd St.

New York, NY 10017

(212) 687-6200

www.jdc.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 April 2007: CHRO joins the Malaysian Parliamentary Caucus for Democracy in Burma in their call for the Malaysian government to take immediate action in the case of Dally Sui and to protect all Burmese children living in Malaysia. As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Malaysia has a responsibility to uphold and ensure the rights of all children, including refugee and undocumented children, are protected.

 

THE CASE OF DALLY SUI

 

Dally Sui is seven year old Chin girl who was abducted on 20 March. Her body was later found with her hands severed at the wrist on 27 March. Dally Sui and her family fled Burma, and had been living in Malaysia as refugees since 2002. She went missing the day before she and her family were scheduled to leave Malaysia to be resettled to the United States.

 

After becoming aware that Dally Sui had disappeared, her parents immediately filed a missing persons report with the police. As the hours turned into days and the search for Dally Sui spread throughout the Chin community in Kuala Lumpur, the police did little to help. Despite repeated requests for their involvement, the authorities failed to take exert the effort even to simply speak to the distraught parents or interview the neighbors In the end, Dally Sui was found dead with her body dumped in some undergrowth just 4 kilometers from her parent’s house. Her hands remain unaccounted for and her killer has still not been identified by the authorities. Her parent’s must now face leaving for the United States without receiving answers about the death of their little girl.

 

REFUGEE CHILDREN IN MALAYSIA

 

The case of Dally Sui reflects a larger problem for the Chin population living in Malaysia – the lack of adequate protection for the most vulnerable members of their community. Not only are refugee and undocumented migrant children unprotected by Malaysian authorities, but they are also at constant risk of being arrested, detained, and deported at the hands of the Malaysian authorities.

 

Currently there are over 500 Chin children living in Malaysia. Like Dally Sui, most are afraid or prohibited by their parents from leaving their family’s homes for fear that they will be arrested. Refugees and undocumented children are not allowed to attend school in Malaysia. As a result, many Chin children spend their days indoors unable to experience childhood in a safe and supportive environment.

 

ARREST AND DETENTION OF CHILDREN IN MALAYSIA

 

Despite their obligations to refrain from arbitrarily depriving a child of his or her liberty under Article 37(b) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Malaysian authorities are constantly responsible for the unwarranted arrest and detention of children. Currently there are about 20 Chin children, as young as less than a month old, detained in Malaysian detention facilities.

 

On the very day that Dally Sui went missing, immigration officers raided the home of Uk Nawl and Biak Thluai and took into custody their two children Ngun Za Tial (age 12) and Bawi Lian Thang (age 10). Both parents are UNHCR recognized refugees and their children were scheduled to be interviewed for resettlement to the United States on the following morning. They are still being detained at Semenyih camp. The youngest child has reportedly fallen sick.

 

Even more disconcerting is the recent spate of arrests of newborn babies. One month ago, the Malaysian authorities arrested and detained several newborn refugee babies when their parent’s attempted to register the child’s birth with the immigration office. Despite the fact that in each case at least one birth parent had received UNHCR refugee recognition, the Malaysian authorities took into their custody a two week old baby on 21 February, a one day old baby on 6 March, and another newborn baby on 7 March. These actions jeopardize the right of a child to be registered at birth as accorded by Article 7 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child.

 

ARREST AND DETENTION OF PREGNANT WOMEN AND NURSING MOTHERS

 

Correlated to the obligation to adequately protect children, the Malaysian government also has a corresponding duty to protect pregnant women and new mothers not only under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child but also under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which Malaysia is also a signatory to. Malaysia, however, has consistently failed to uphold their commitments under international law.

 

As recently as yesterday, with the Chin community still in mourning over the loss of Dally Sui, RELA officers raided the Pudu market in downtown Kuala Lumpur and arrested two nursing mothers, separating them from their newborn babies. The mothers, Bawi Sung, whose baby is 3 months old, and Hniang Zitial, whose baby is 1 month old, are both UNHCR recognized refugees. After repeated cries for mercy, both mothers were later released late in the evening.

 

Pregnant women are also frequently caught up in the RELA raids and forced to deliver their babies in squalid detention facilities. One Chin woman described to CHRO how she was six and a half months pregnant when she was arrested by RELA officers in Kuala Lumpur on 5 October 2006. During the arrest and her time in detention, she was kicked, hit on the forehead with a baton, repeatedly forced to strip naked and sit with her legs spread, had her nipples pinched by guards, endured constant verbal abuse, and was provided with inadequate sustenance. She later gave birth in detention on 20 December while chained to a bed. She was eventually released on 21 January 2007 after intervention from the UNHCR.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

 

The abuses described above have gone on for too long. It is time for the Malaysian government to live up to its commitments under international law and provide adequate protection to all the children living within its borders. CHRO calls on the Malaysian government to:

 

· Conduct a proper investigation into the disappearance and death of seven year old Dally Sui and to ensure such acts of violence are not committed with impunity.

 

· Respect and uphold its international legal obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

 

· Stop the arrest and detention of refugee children and their mothers.

 

· Immediately and unconditionally release refugee children and their parents in government custody.

 

· Cooperate with and recognize the powers of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in protecting the inherent rights of refugees and asylum seekers.

 

CALL FOR ACTION

 

To join Malaysian Parliamentary Caucus for Democracy in Burma and CHRO in their call for the protection of refugee and undocumented children in Malaysia, please write or contact the Malaysian Home Affairs Ministry at:

Ministry of Home Affairs

Royal Malaysian Police

Cawangan Perhubungan Awam

Polis Diraja Malaysia

Ibu Pejabat Polis Bukit Aman

50560 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Tel: (60) 3-2262 6310; Fax: (60) 3-2272-2710;

 

Website: http://www.rmp.gov.my

Email: [email protected] e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

Contact Information: For more information about the situation of refugee and undocumented children and mothers in Malaysia, please contact Salai Ling, CHRO Malaysia Project Coordinator, e-mail: [email protected] e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or Amy Alexander, CHRO Legal Consultant, Tel: +66.85.23.02.609, email: [email protected] e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

 

20 April 2007: CHRO welcomes Malaysia’s recent statements indicating a refusal to defend Burma in future engagements on the international stage. To further this objective, CHRO calls on Malaysia to protect and respect the rights of the thousands of Burmese refugees living within its borders.

 

On 19 April 2007, Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry Parliamentary Secretary, Ahmad Shabery Cheek, told reporters that Malaysia along with other ASEAN members agreed not to shield Burma from attacks “if it was bombarded at any international forum.” Justifying this position, Shabery recognized the continued illegitimacy of Burma’s military rulers indicating that Burma failed to show any progress towards reform.

 

Despite Malaysia’s hard foreign policy stance on Burma’s military regime, Malaysia’s domestic policy fails to recognize or provide any sort of protection to the very people who have suffered under Burma’s rule- the Burmese refugee community. Tens of thousands of Burmese refugees and asylum seekers, including some 23,000 from Burma’s Chinland, have found themselves in Malaysia after being forced from their homes at the hands of Burma’s military regime.

 

Although a signatory to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and a sitting member of the UN Human Rights Council, the Malaysia government has consistently refused to protect refugees and asylum seekers living within their borders. Rather, the Burmese communities in Malaysia have been the regular target of security abuses, immigration raids and round-ups, increasing violent crimes committed in impunity, and abuses against the most vulnerable members of their community, including women and children.

 

Immigration raids targeting Burmese communities occur on an almost weekly basis in Malaysia, typically conducted by the highly controversial, untrained and often abusive Peoples’ Volunteer Corp., also known as RELA. Malaysian immigration detention facilities currently hold about 2,000 Burmese asylum seekers and refugees, about half of which are Chins. Of particular concern to CHRO are the continuing arrests of pregnant women and minors. At this time, CHRO is aware of five pregnant Chin women who were recently arrested, two of whom were forced to give birth in detention. All five are remain in detention despite their vulnerable states. According to CHRO’s sources, there are also about 20 Chin children, some as young as less than a month old, detained in Malaysian detention facilities.

 

For Malaysia to make good on its foreign policy initiatives towards Burma, Malaysia should first look at domestically and make good on its promise to respect the basic human rights of refugees and asylum seekers who are the victims of Burma’s military regime.

 

Contact Information: For more information, please contact Salai Ling, CHRO Malaysia Project Coordinator, e-mail: [email protected] e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or Amy Alexander, CHRO Legal Consultant, Tel: +66.85.23.02.609, email: [email protected] e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

 

 

 

By: Amy Alexander

 

25 June 2007

 

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Over 200 asylum-seekers and UNHCR-recognized refugees from Burma have been rounded up and taken into custody after early morning immigration raids today conducted by Malaysia’s controversial People’s Volunteer Corps (RELA) in Kuala Lumpur neighborhoods.

 

The raids began around 1:30 am and took place in KL’s urban neighborhoods of Jalan Imbi and Sempaing, where a large number of asylum seekers and refugees from Burma’s Chin State reside. Approximately 217 were arrested and reportedly taken to Lenggeng detention camp located two hours outside of KL. This is the second large-scale raid in this area of KL since the beginning of the year.

 

Among those arrested are many UNHCR-recognized refugees, including several who are scheduled to be resettled to a third country within the next couple weeks and months. The Coordinator for the Chin Refugee Center (CRC), a community-based organization working to provide assistance to the Chin population living in Malaysia, was one of those arrested during the raid. He and his family are scheduled for resettlement to the United States in September. The Coordinator was eventually released after intervention by UNHCR and human rights organizations.

 

This raid is just one of a series of raids that have been conducted since the Government of Malaysia launched operations targeting undocumented migrants in March 2005. Despite criticism by human rights groups, conditions have only gotten worse for undocumented migrants as harassment, arrests, and deportations increased during the last year. Those arrested for immigration offenses are increasingly charged with canings, a serious penalty that leaves deep, permanent scarring. Conditions inside Malaysia’s detention facilities meanwhile remain deplorable, with detainees being given inadequate food, clothing, and accommodations, in addition to being subjected to verbal and physical abuse by the guards.

 

RELA, the untrained task force largely responsible for conducting immigration raids, has been the focus of consistent complaints for human rights violations and abuse of power. RELA has been responsible for deliberate property damage, extortion, harassment, indiscriminate and unlawful arrests, and physical assaults resulting in serious injuries and even death. Increasingly, there are calls for an end to RELA’s activities, with the Malaysia-based human rights group SUARAM issuing two separate complaints to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) within the last year and the Malaysian Bar calling for RELA’s immediate disbandment in March. Within this last month, RELA succumbed to pressure by numerous human rights groups to do away with the bounty system, which provided RELA agents with 80RM (US$25) for each arrest and led to increased abuses among the untrained volunteers.

 

Meanwhile the Malaysian Government has refused to address these issues. Rather, in February of this year, Malaysia’s Home Affairs Minister, Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad reportedly criticized the UNHCR for getting in the way of the operations of agencies such as RELA and the Immigration Department. The Minister further indicated that Malaysia “accepts UNHCR’s presence, but not their powers.” At the beginning of this month, Foreign Minister Syed Hamid further reiterated that Malaysia will not recognize refugees.

 

Hundreds of thousands of Chins have been forced to leave their homes in Burma to escape severe ethnic and religious persecution committed by the military regime of Burma. They arrive in Malaysia in search of some sense of security. Currently, there are over 23,000 Chin asylum seekers and refugees living in Malaysia. Instead of finding safety, the Chin people are the constant target of harassment, arrest, detention, and deportation by the Malaysian authorities. In addition, they are unable to work, receive an education, access healthcare services, or find acceptable living accommodations. With the UNHCR registration process closed since July 2005, obtaining refugee status or any protective documents from the UNHCR is difficult. As a result, life for the Chins in Malaysia is full of abuses and uncertainties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 26, 2007

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: CHRO has recently been informed that just two days after Malaysia’s RELA forces rounded up and detained more than 200 refugees and asylum seekers from the Jalan Imbi neighborhood of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian immigration authorities conducted a second raid, this time in Kuala Lumpur’s Lok Yew neighborhood. This second raid resulted in 42 more refugees and asylum seekers being sent to the already overflowing Lenggeng immigration detention facility.

 

Whereas most of the Chins detained during the June 25th raid are UNHCR recognized refugees awaiting resettlement to third countries, a majority of those detained during the June 27th raid are women and young children. From these two incidents alone, over 36 children, two pregnant women, and 19 UNHCR-recognized refugees who are within months of being resettled to third countries are now in Malaysian immigration detention facilities facing an uncertain future.

 

CHRO is concerned for the safety and security of all those who are detained in Malaysia. CHRO is particularly concerned for the two nine-month pregnant women, Tuan Zi (Chin Refugee Center File No. 354-05C08617) and Fam Tang (UNHCR File No. 03/MLS/08317), and the children who remain in detention despite their vulnerable positions, including:

 

Ngun Tha Lian, age 1 (File No. 05/MLS/05505)

Tial Tim Rem, age 3 (File No. 05/MLS/05505)

Van Lian Bawi, age 3 (File No. 354-05C08617)

Siang Hlei Sung, age 4 (File No. 354-06C03661)

Jumania Sung Tin Par, age 6 (File No. 354-06C03661)

Ngun Za Hlei, age 7 (File No. 05/MLS/05505)

Cem Cem, age 7 (File No. 05/MLS/05503)

Tha Chin Iang, age 10 (File No. 354-06C03661)

Solomon, age 12 (File No. 05/00579)

Cung Uk Thawng, age 12 (File No. 04/07211)

Sui cin, age 13 (File No. 354-06C03661)

Philip, age 14 (File No. 05/00579)

Conditions inside Malaysia’s immigration detention facilities rise to the level of torture, with prisoners being given inadequate food, clothing, and accommodations, in addition to being subjected to verbal and physical abuse by the guards. Those arrested for immigration offenses are increasingly charged with canings, a serious penalty that leaves deep, permanent scarring. This situation is of serious concern for anyone in detention; however, for the numerous women and children, particularly pregnant women and very young children, the situation is critical.

 

The raids conducted by immigration enforcement agents during this past June are just two of a series of raids that have been conducted on an almost weekly basis since the Government of Malaysia launched operations targeting undocumented migrants in March 2005. For members of the Chin community, frequent raids and security abuses is an exhausting but unavoidable reality of daily existence in Malaysia. As expressed by Nani, a Chin refugee and volunteer with the Chin Refugee Center in Kuala Lumpur, “I’m really tired of this situation but [we] have to face whatever comes.”

 

CALL TO ACTION

 

By continuing to conduct immigration raids that target the refugee community and results in the detention, abuse, and deportation of large numbers of particularly vulnerable persons, Malaysia is in violation of basic human rights standards. Malaysia is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as a sitting member of the UN Human Rights Council, however, women and children in Malaysia, including pregnant woman and very young children, continue to be exposed to and unprotected from security abuses, hostile immigration raids, and increasingly violent crimes committed with impunity.

 

Under international human rights law, these violations should not have to be a part of daily existence for asylum seekers and refugees living in Malaysia. CHRO calls on the Malaysian government to:

 

· Discontinue immigration raids and RELA operations that target members of the refugee and asylum seeking community.

 

· Immediately and unconditionally release all refugees and asylum seekers currently in immigration custody, particularly women and children.

 

· Cooperate with and work in conjunction with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to protect the inherent rights of refugees and asylum seekers.

 

· Respect and uphold its international legal obligations to protect and promote the human rights of all people living within its borders.

 

CHRO also calls on the international community to join our efforts. Please write to or contact the following Malaysian officials in support of our demands:

 

Dato’ Seri Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi

Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Security

Prime Minister’s Office Malaysia

Perdana Putra Building

Federal Government Administrative Centre

62502 Putra Jaya

Selangor, Malaysia

Tel : + 60 3 8888 6000

Fax : + 60 3 8888 3444

 

 

 

Datuk Radzi Sheikh Ahmad

 

Minister of Home Affairs

 

Level 12, Block D1, Parcel D

 

Federal Government Administrative Centre

 

62546 Putra Jaya

 

Selangor, Malaysia

 

Tel: +60 3 8886 8000

Fax: +60 3 8889 1613

 

 

 

Tuan HJ. Wahid Bin MD Don

 

Director-General of Immigration Department

 

Director General Office

 

Immigration Department of Malaysia

 

Level 1-7 (Podium) Block 2G-4, Precint 2

 

Federal Government Administration Centre

 

62550 Putrajaya

 

Selangor, Malaysia

 

Tel: +60 3 8880 1000

Fax: +60 3 8880 1200

 

 

 

 

By: Amy Alexander

 

31 July 2007

 

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: About 60 refugees and asylum seekers from Burma’s Chin State are now behind bars in Malaysia awaiting an uncertain future after immigration raids yesterday in Kuala Lumpur’s Jalan Lokeyew neighborhood. About 20 women and children and 25 UNHCR-recognized refugees are among those rounded up during the raid.

 

Almost half of those arrested yesterday morning are recognized refugees with valid UNHCR documents. Many are in the final stages of a long process to be resettled to a third country, with some scheduled to depart within the next couple weeks. Instead of boarding an airplane to begin a new life abroad, they now face the possibility of being loaded onto a lorry bound for the Thai border.

 

The raid began in the early hours of the morning yesterday in Kuala Lumpur’s Jalan Lokeyew neighborhood, where a large number of refugees and asylum seekers from Burma’s Chin State reside. This neighborhood was targeted just one month ago in a similarly-styled raid, which resulted in the arrest and detention of mostly women and young children.

 

The raid was conducted by Malaysia’s controversial RELA or the People’s Volunteer Corps, an untrained, volunteer civilian unit endowed with considerable enforcement powers. This year RELA has come under increasing criticism for its member’s reckless conduct and abusive actions during raids, not only by international human rights groups but also by organization’s within Malaysia’s civil society. In March, the Malaysian Bar joined the Malaysia-based human rights group SUARAM in calling for RELA’s immediate disbandment following repeated complaints of torture and other human rights violations.

 

Despite continued condemnation by members of the international community and human rights organizations, yesterday’s raid is one of a mounting number of recently conducted raids targeting the refugee and undocumented migrant community in Malaysia. Since the beginning of this year, several hundreds of refugees and undocumented migrants have been caught up in similar immigration raids.

 

Malaysia refuses to recognize or give any protections to refugees or asylum seekers living within its borders. Rather, Malaysia has been conducting operations to target undocumented migrants as well as refugees and asylum seekers since March 2005. In February of this year, Malaysia’s Home Affairs Minister, Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad reaffirmed the government’s intolerance for the refugee population by criticizing the UNHCR for getting in the way of the operations of agencies such as RELA and the Immigration Department. The Minister further indicated that Malaysia “accepts UNHCR’s presence, but not their powers.”

 

Hundreds of thousands of Chins have been forced to leave their homes in Burma to escape severe ethnic and religious persecution committed by the military regime of Burma. They arrive in Malaysia in search of some sense of security. Currently, there are over 23,000 Chin asylum seekers and refugees living in Malaysia. Instead of finding safety, the Chin people are the constant target of harassment, arrest, detention, and deportation by the Malaysian authorities. In addition, they are unable to work, receive an education, access healthcare services, or find acceptable living accommodations. With the UNHCR registration process closed since July 2005, obtaining refugee status or any protective documents from the UNHCR is difficult. As a result, life for the Chins in Malaysia is full of abuses and uncertainties

 

 

 

 

9 November 2007

 

Kelantan State, Malaysia: CHRO recently received information that eight Chin women and 13 Chin children have been arrested and detained by immigration authorities in Malaysia’s Kelantan State on 29 October 2007. At least five of the children are under the age of 4.The arrests took place shortly after the van the women and children were riding in was involved in a serious traffic accident. They are currently being held in Tanah Merah Immigration Detention Camp near Pasir Mas.

 

This most recent arrest occurred on 29 October 2007 as the Chin women and children were traveling through Kelantan State heading to join their families in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia’s capital city. On the journey to KL the van, in which the Chin women and children were passengers, ran off the road and slammed into a large tree. Five of the passengers were seriously injured in the accident, including four minors. Meanwhile, the driver of the van fled the scene of the accident.

 

Following the accident, the immigration authorities arrived and immediately took into custody all 21 Chin passengers for failing to have proper immigration documents. In fact, the women and children were traveling to KL to join family members, who are recognized refugees expecting to be resettled to a third country. Although United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been informed of the situation, they have indicated that they cannot intervene on behalf of the arrested women and children because they are not yet formally registered with the UN.

 

Commenting on the predicament, a representative of the Chin Refugee Center, a community-based organization in KL, said, “Now we have to try to do whatever we can do for our community members since the UN will not get involved. We must find a way to protect our women and children. Immigration detention is no place for a child.”

 

Currently all 21 women and children are being held in Tanah Merah Immigration Detention Camp located in Pasir Mas in Kelantan. Three of the passengers who were injured in the accident were taken to the hospital for treatment. One girl, age 13, suffered a broken thigh while her mother had to have glass shards removed from her head. After their release from the hospital, they were returned to immigration custody.

 

LACK OF PROTECTION FOR CHIN WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN MALAYSIA

 

CHRO is concerned by Malaysia’s consistent disregard for the rights and protections of Chin women and children living in Malaysia. Currently there are about 70 Chin women and children being held in immigration detention facilities throughout Malaysia. Pregnant women and very young children are not immune and many young mothers have been forced to give birth and nurse their newborns while under immigration custody. Chin women and children in Malaysia, including those with UNHCR documents, are at constant risk of being arrested, detained, and deported at the hands of the Malaysian authorities.

 

Under Article 27(b) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which Malaysia is a signatory, Malaysia is responsible for protecting children from being arbitrarily deprived of his/her liberty. Malaysia has also agreed to abide by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. By continuing to arrest and detain Chin women and children, Malaysia has failed to uphold their commitments under international law.

 

CALL TO ACTION

 

CHRO calls on the Malaysian government to respect and uphold its international legal obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Please join CHRO in their demands to the Malaysian government to:

 

· Respect and protect the rights of Chin women and children living within Malaysia’s borders;

 

· Stop the arrest and detention of Chin women and children; and

 

· Immediately and unconditionally release all Chin women and children currently being held in its immigration detention facilities, including the 21 most recent arrestees being held in Kelantan;

 

Please direct your communications and concerns to:

Datuk Radzi Sheikh Ahmad

Minister of Home Affairs

Level 12, Block D1, Parcel D,

Federal Government Administrative Centre,

62546 Putrajaya

Tel: +60.38.886.8000

Fax: +60.38.889.1613

 

Tuan HJ. Wahid Bin MD Don, Director-General of Immigration Department

Director General Office

Immigration Department of Malaysia ,

Level 1-7 (Podium) Block 2G-4, Precint 2,

Federal Government Administration Centre,

62550 Putrajaya,

Tel: +60 3 8880 1000

Fax: +60 3 8880 1200

 

Encik Che Baharom Bin Hamzah

 

Director of State Immigration

 

Kelantan State

 

Malaysia

 

Tel: +60.9.744.1644

 

Fax: +60.9.744.0200

 

 

 

Malik Zaliman Bin Deraman

 

State Immigration Enforcement Officer

 

Kelantan State

 

Malaysia

 

Tel: ( 609 ) 7475735

 

Fax: ( 609 ) 7434608

 

 

 

 

To protect and promote human rights and democratic principles