CHRO CONCERNED BY REMARKS OF MALAYSIA’S HOME AFFAIRS MINISTER
8 February 2007
CHRO is deeply concerned and dismayed by the recent statements made by Malaysia’s Home Affairs Minister, Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad, regarding United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia. CHRO urges the Minister to consider the implications of his statements in conjunction with the realities of the refugee situation in Malaysia.
On 1 February 2007, the Minister reportedly criticized 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.”
The statements by Minister Radzi reflect a failure to understand the importance of UNHCR’s functions in Malaysia. Currently there are over 25,000 Chin people living in Malaysia who have been forced to leave their homes, friends, families, and livelihoods in Chin State, Burma. The Chin have come to Malaysia in the hopes of finding a safe refuge from the brutal military rulers that have controlled Burma through unspeakable violence and oppression for decades. The Chins in Malaysia are survivors of torture, rape, forced labor, religious persecution, and other severe violations of basic human rights. These communities rely on the effective functioning of UNHCR to protect their right to seek asylum and find refuge from their persecutors.
In addition to protecting the rights and well-being of refugees, UNHCR also exists to help governments deal with refugee populations. Under its mandate, UNHCR facilitates the resettlement of refugees to third countries as well as the voluntary repatriation of refugees back to secure homelands. During the past several years, hundreds of Chin refugees have been resettled from Malaysia to start new, productive lives in third countries. It is, therefore, in Malaysia’s best interest to encourage UNHCR’s operation rather than oppose it.
The Minister’s statements also ignore Malaysia’s obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law. Although Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, there are certain basic customary rights and principles that all nations must respect and uphold. Under customary human rights law, Malaysia is required to provide certain basic protections to all individuals within its borders, including refugees and asylum seekers. The principle of non-refoulement also prevents governments from forcibly expelling individuals who are at risk of trafficking or persecution.
Malaysia has consistently and blatantly ignored desperate pleas for protection from refugees and flouted its obligations under international law. Refugees and asylum seekers live in constant fear of RELA and immigration raids that target neighborhoods where large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers live. Abuse during the raids is rampant, particularly by the untrained RELA forces which has been the subject of frequent complaints to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM). The raids result in the unwarranted arrest, detention, and deportation of hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees each year. Moreovr , Chin refugees in Malaysia are unable to work, attend school, access health or social services, or obtain adequate living accommodations.
CHRO urges Malaysia to uphold its commitment and responsibilities to promote and protect basic human rights of all persons within its borders. CHRO commends Malaysia for allowing UNHCR to carry out its mandate in Malaysia since 1975 and urges Malaysia to continue to promote and encourage the operations of UNHCR. CHRO also asks Malaysia to focus efforts on opposing the root causes of refugee flow, such as the illegitimate and brutal military regime of Burma, rather than exerting effort and expense against refugees themselves.
Contact: Salai Bawi Lian