Monday, December 28, 2009

Burmese Refugees : Being Foreign

Last week my section of Cathay Pacific flight 882 from Hong Kong to Los Angeles was full of refugees from Myanmar, a nervous group of 39 men, women and children bundled up in winter coats, each clutching a plastic bag emblazoned with the logo of the International Organization for Migration.

During the long flight, the man next to me – an ethnic Chin – struggled with his in-flight entertainment system. Finally, he got a movie to play – a Beverly Hills 90210 sort of film, featuring wide-eyed blonds flirting with country club pool-boys and shopping on Rodeo Drive.

Watching the man watch an idealized vision of America as we cruised over the Aleutians, I thought about the the transition he would face adapting to life in the real America. How would he reconcile the gaps between expectations and reality?

He didn’t speak any English. He was going to the state of Washington.

No matter how well this particular Chin refugee dealt with the transition to life in America, he would have to adjust to being a foreigner in an unrelentingly foreign culture and environment.

The concept of ‘being foreign’ is central to the experience of travel, but mainstream travel media rarely seems to address it head on. The British magazine The Economist recently published a thoughtful meditation on being foreign. One line was especially resonant for me, as I thought about the refugees, exiles in a foreign land:

For the real exile, foreignness is not an adventure but a test of endurance.

We voluntary travelers are so fortunate, in so many ways.

Community Connection

For a look at the challenges the refugees overcame before getting on the plane to America, check out the article Waiting For Life to Begin in a Burmese Refugee Camp.

Clearly, refugees need a lot of support here in the States. Does anyone know how to help out? What nationalities are being resettled in your area? Please leave a comment below!

Waiting For Life to Begin in a Burmese Refugee Camp

I wake up realizing the familiar acquaintance of feeling lost accompanies me and I see a long day of passing time ahead.

I think of home, my purpose, where I should be right now, what I should be doing. I begin to think how difficult life can be, its finality and even feel a little sorry for myself. I go downstairs and sit down for breakfast with my friend, an illegal migrant from Burma who runs the guesthouse I am staying in.

His face appears more burdened than usual so I ask him how he is doing? He tells me things could be getting unsafe for him and that he will be heading to live in the jungle at one of the nearby refugee camps for six months to a year at the end of February.

I am speechless.

I realize instantly how trivial my questions are and that asking myself such questions of life is a freedom many are not so lucky to have. I learn a valuable lesson I will not forget.

I am in Mae Sot, Thailand, a town on the Thai/Myanmar (Burma) border. Like many towns on the same border line, its surroundings serve as a “temporary” home for some 100,000 refugees and migrant workers of the total 1-2 million internally and externally displaced people the oppressive military regime in Burma has created.

Governing by fear, the military has been in control for the past 50 years, forcefully suppressing the several pro-democracy movements by the Burmese people and arresting or killing those that oppose.

It is a grim situation here with a definite lack of global awareness and attention. Yet it is this global awareness that could create international pressure on the dictatorship that would serve as a crucial stimulant for change. The Thai government tolerates the resulting flood of refugees, yet they are restricted to a certain area by military checkpoints preventing them from venuturing further into Thailand.

Neither citizens of Thailand, nor can they return to Burma, the majority here are quite simply waiting for life to begin; to get back a life and a home that might only exist in their memories.

The majority here are quite simply waiting for life to begin; to get back a life and a home that might only exist in their memories.

As a volunteer, I have been teaching English in a nearby village called Boarding High School for Orphans and Helpless Youths (BHSOH). It is one of the many illegal migrant schools in the area for Burmese refugee children and serves as a home for just under half of the students; school by day, kitchen, play area, and sleeping quarters by night.

Although these children have suffered so much and have so little, it was not evident in the smiles and positive attitudes of those I encountered. These children had no control of their past and what happened to place them in their current situation, but it is evident that only they control how they respond to it.

I believe it is a matter of acceptance.

Don’t get me wrong, I am talking about acceptance, not resignation. The moment we accept our present reality is the moment we can take measures to change it.

"Chin refugee detainee died in custody"

A chin refugee formally known as Mr. Ngo Za Pau (45) from Thuklai village, Teddim Township, died at KLIA immigration camp in Malaysia on 9th December 2009. He arrived to Malaysia in 2004 and was arrested by the police on the unknown date and was detained in Seminyih camp.

He was seriously sick and admitted to the hospital by the camp authority because his condition become worse and was dying. Some community workers believed that the camp authority admitted him to the hospital when he was dying because they feared that he might die inside the custody. His body has been still keeping in Putra Jaya hospital for further investigation.

He had already registered with United Nation High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) since 2004 and had been issued the card in the same year. He was also engaged to resettle to United State and had passed all interviews which were set up by the UNHCR office for refugees.

Even though he had UNHCR card the police arrested him at Pudu car parking on his way back from workplace and spontaneously taken him to Seminyih camp. But no information was given to his relatives and refugee community in Malaysia. Eventually, he was transferred to KLIA camp because the camp authorities and Burmese detainees riot at seminyih camp in July, 2009.

According to his cousin brother, “Mr. Ngo Za Pau was not allowed to contact me within two weeks since he was under arrest. That time, we think that he had already lost to come back home. After two weeks, he was allowed to contact us but he had already been accused of undocumented and illegal entrance to the country by immigration”.

According to the law quotation brochure released by Bar Council, every arrestee has a right to inform one’s relative or one’s relevant community within fourteen days before they appear to court.

As the camp authority in KLIA denied to access medical team to the camp, two of Chin refugees and other detainees had passed away in the camp. The camp analyzers who often visited to the camp said that the detention camp condition is getting worse but harassment made by the authority is increasing day by day. The local NGOs also released a statement regarding the camp condition that says, “Denying to access healthcare inside the camp and custody is violation to life”.

In other hand, all foreign prisoners in Seremban custody are not allowed to use their mother-tongue except Bahasa and English to contact their relatives and community.

A Chin refugee detainee suddenly laid down in custody

This is a gain. “A Chin refugee detainee A Thang who is being detained at Langkap immigration in Malaysia fell down and became unconscious yesterday. He fell down because of depression and unbearable agony inside his heart after he was excluded among 60 detainees who were released by the UNHCR team recently,” one inmate said.

A Thang, holder of UNHCR card file no. 791-08C 01498 from Hriangpi village, was arrested by People Volunteer Corp at his workplace in Cameron highland, 220 km away from Kuala Lumpur, on 13th October, 2009.

Lautu Refugee Coordinator and Bawinu weekly newsletter Editor Salai Tin Hmung said that Mr. A Thang who has four children in Myanmar and working at the farm in Cameron Highland was fainted and fell down on concrete floor with unknown disease. He believed that A Thang was demoralized and fell down because he was excluded in the detainee list brought by UNHCR team to be released.

“I don’t believe that the camp authority will send him to the hospital even though he is in critical condition. They (the camp authority) always denied to access healthcare into the camp and some foreign detainees had died in the camp” Salai Tin Hmung added.

Despite the UNHCR team had released at least 60 detainees within this week, more than 15 refugee detainees are still remained in the camp.

A Chin refugee hit by car in Malaysia

A chin refugee, Mr. Za Hnin (37) from Leitak village was hit by a car on 20th December, 2009 at Jalan Loke Yew, Kuala Lumpur. The accident happened when he was crossing the highway between his friend house and his residence. He was injured several places on his head and his face. His thigh also is broken and was admitted to UKM hospital.

“When Mr. Za Hnin crossed the highway alone and hit by a car to break his leg and unable to walk, he had nobody to call for help around him. But after a moment, the rescuers from fire department arrived and called Ambulance to rush him to the hospital. When the Ambulance arrived, one of Chin refugee, who lives near Za Hnin’s residence, accompanied him to the hospital before the Chin Community Committee worker arrived. Right now, everything is going well and we had already done every thing in the hospital but we still cannot find out the driver” his friend said.

“Mr. Za Hnin, holder of UNHCR card and lives in cramp flat with his wife and one child, has financial problem for his medical treatment. He gained registration as refugee on September this year and he still have to stay in Malaysia for two or three years and needs to take care of his family in Malaysia. We really worry that whether he will recover properly” the roommate said.

Previously, One of Mr. Za Hnin’s roommate also was hit by a car and admitted to General Hospital in Kuala Lumpur but he paid RM 7,000 for recovery.

In Malaysia, Local NGOs as well as Legal Aid cannot help this kind of accident cases in court except supporting the patients financially .

U.S. citizen's jailing in Myanmar

By Glenn Kessler
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — After his arrest in September, the American was held for 17 days in a dank Myanmar jail and denied food, medical treatment, sleep and the chance to speak with a U.S. government official. Even after he finally met with a representative from the U.S. Embassy, the American was transferred to solitary confinement in a cell for military dogs.
But the harsh treatment on what advocates say are trumped-up charges has barely merited a peep from the Obama administration.
Nyi Nyi Aung, a Montgomery County, Md., resident and Myanmar democracy advocate who has traveled there often, appears to be politically inconvenient for both the United States and the Myanmar military dictatorship at a moment when the two countries have taken tentative steps toward engagement after years of stormy antagonism.
"It is shocking to me that an American citizen has been treated this way and higher U.S. officials are silent on that," said Wa Wa Kyaw, Nyi Nyi's fiancee and also a U.S. citizen and Maryland resident.
"It will let the generals think, 'We can do whatever we want, even torture and inhumane treatment of a U.S. citizen,' because America wants to do the engagement policy."
In one apparent concession to American sensitivities, the government in October abruptly dropped charges of instigating unrest in concert with pro-democracy groups. Instead, it accused Nyi Nyi of purely criminal acts — allegedly possessing a forged Myanmar identification document and failing to declare U.S. currency totaling more than $2,000. His lawyers say he is innocent of both offenses; they note that he appears to have been seized by authorities before he even made it through customs, where he would have had to declare the currency.
Officials at the Myanmar Embassy in Washington did not reply to a request for comment.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, is regarded as one of the world's most oppressive nations, ruled by generals who have enriched themselves while much of the country remains desperately poor. The National League for Democracy, the party of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won a landslide electoral victory in 1990, but the military leadership refused to accept it. Since then, she has been under house arrest for most of the time, as have hundreds of her supporters.
The 40-year-old Nyi Nyi was one of the leading organizers of demonstrations against the junta in 1988 and fled the country after a violent crackdown, eventually settling in the United States as a political refugee in 1993. He became a U.S. citizen in 2002 and earned a college degree in computer science, but he also remained deeply involved in Burmese democracy efforts.
Wa Wa said that her fiance managed to often travel to Myanmar to visit his family and work with the underground because his U.S. passport is in his legal name, Kyaw Zaw Lwin. In his professional and personal lives in the United States, he has used Nyi Nyi Aung — an amalgam of a childhood nickname and his father's first name — and for years the Myanmar government never made the connection.
But last summer, Nyi Nyi's profile was raised when he helped deliver a petition to a senior United Nations official with 680,000 signatures calling for the release of all political prisoners in Myanmar.
Wa Wa, who has lived with Nyi Nyi since 2005, also has secretly traveled back to Myanmar even though she is a political refugee.

UNHCR Registered Burmese Refugees In Malaysia

The UNHCR paid a visit to Malaysia’s Belitik camp where more than 40 detained Burmese refugees were interviewed and given UN Registration last week, it emerged.
More than 40 out of about 200 Burmese detainees interviewed got registered as recognised refugees during a five-day visit to the camp by the UN, according to a confirmed source.
“There are five Burmese mothers with babies in the detention camp and one of them is from Tungtuang village, Tonzang Township, Chin State. Most of the registered refugees are of Arakan, Rohingya and Mon people from Burma. Only 6 Chin refugees, who reported to the UN team, got registered during this visit,” added the source.
It is claimed that there are about 20 Chin refugees being detained at the Belitik camp.
Meanwhile, the UNHCR has been criticised for stopping its registration of vulnerable refugees including pregnant women, children and elderly people since early May this year, and for delay in taking action to resume its Mobile Registration.
Amid difficulties, slow registration process by the UNHCR has been seen as having bad impacts on the mental condition of many refugees, resulting in frustration and depression. At least three suicides have been committed within this year in Malaysia.
On 18 June 2009, the UNHCR said it will assist in providing some basic needs for Burmese refugees after making a visit to Kajang prison in Malaysia.
More than an estimated 30,000 Chin refugees and asylum-seekers have been stranded in Malaysia after fleeing brutalities and persecutions constantly inflicted upon them in their native places by Burma’s military dictatorship.
In addition, the SPDC-ignored food crisis caused by bamboo-and-rat-related phenomenon in Chin State prompted the Chin people to flee into neighbouring countries in search of refuge and safety

Burmese refugees spread holiday spirit with song

Putting aside any thought of the grim circumstances they left behind, a dozen new Burmese refugees lifted their voices Monday in the crowded vestibule of the International Institute on Delaware Avenue.
The performers were Chins, a predominantly Christian ethnic group from the Burma region bordering India, and the songs were native Christmas carols.
The ensemble didn’t simply harmonize, they energetically belted out the lyrics backed by two acoustic guitars and one electric guitar hooked to a portable amplifier. Fellow Burmese stood facing them in a semicircle, smiling, singing and clapping along.
“In Burma, they would be singing these songs in church this week,” said Nanda Sara, a Buddhist monk who fled his homeland, also known as Myanmar, in 2004 and was in the vanguard of refugees who started resettling in Western New York.
Now a caseworker at the institute, Sara does not speak the Chin dialect but understood perfectly the tidings of joy expressed by the exuberant choir. After all, music — in every language— has long been a powerful antidote to political strife the world over.
The choir members are part of a tide of Burmese refugees that is expected to total about 350 in the next year, said Denise Phillips Beehag, International Institute director of refugee and employment services.
They are part of a trend that has seen Erie County and Buffalo become the state’s leading refugee destination — a distinction long and famously owned by New York City. The county has resettled about 5,300 refugees from 45 troubled countries during the past decade, with many more on the way.
Among the nations of origin, few are as problematic for the international community as Burma, which has been ruled by an insular, iron-fisted military regime since 1990.
The number of people living in abject poverty in camps along Burma’s borders has grown to about 1.5 million, and the United Nations is spearheading a global effort to resettle as many as possible. Ethnic Burmese, many of whom were born in those camps, now make up the largest refugee group served by the International Institute, Beehag said.
“We literally meet them at the airport, buy them their first food and then help them find housing, services and jobs,” said Executive Director Eva Hassett. The institute is one of three local agencies expected to welcome a total of about 1,600 refugees this year, she said.
Burmese make up a majority of the 150 people who go to the institute daily and two nights a week for English language classes or other help, Hassett said.
As they have established their own community on Buffalo’s West Side, where three houses have been converted to Buddhist monasteries, Burmese who settled elsewhere in the United States have moved here to join them, she said.
If his countrymen share a goal, it is the determination to succeed in their new surroundings, in a climate that couldn’t be more different than that of tropical Southeast Asia, Sara said.
“The weather is a little hard, but they adapt,” he said. “They can’t go back to Burma anyway, so they say, ‘This is my home.’ ”

More burying than blogging, lately

More burying than blogging, lately

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I have been more than a little slack in my blogging in recent weeks. But, sometimes, the actual world will do that … make demands upon the time you would normally spend in the virtual world. Such was the case with me for the better part of two weeks this month. Sure, at times, it was tiring and annoying … but it was also educating and inspiring … and it reminded me that the best way to shut out the hectic hustle of the holiday season might not be shutting one’s self into a darkened and sound-proofed room but, instead, to go out into the world to serve, to accept added tasks and responsibilities.

That’s what happened to me in early December when I got a Saturday afternoon phone call letting me know that a member of Midland’s Burmese community was in the hospital. The doctor had diagnosed cancer, in an advanced state, and suggested the patient did not have long to live. Could I help with preparations and arrangements, I was asked … well … sure, I guess … I mean, I had helped move furniture, buy school supplies, set-up ESL classes, gather donated goods and things like that. But this was something decidedly different, decidedly more serious … but I said “yes, of course” nonetheless.
I have written before about the Chin, an ethnic, Christian minority from the southeast Asian nation of Myanmar/Burma. An oppressed people and an oppressed church, some have fled their homeland and now make their homes in villages and refugee camps in neighboring nations such as India, Malaysia and Thailand. Many of those apply for refugee status, and a chance to emigrate to the west … and such is the case with the Chin who received permission to enter the United States, and now make their homes in Chicago, Houston, San Diego, Grand Rapids … and Midland, Texas.
They are a good and gracious, hard-working people … and I am the better for knowing them, working with them, celebrating with them and worshiping with them - and helping them make “arrangements.”
First, there was the matter of hospice care … a concept with which they were unfamiliar - a non-profit organization that provides care and support for the terminally-ill and their families. We visited with a case worker for Hospice of Midland, and it was agreed to transfer our friend right away to the hospital’s hospice unit. From that point, there were two sets of arrangements to make. If his condition should improve, we would need to move him to a nursing home. If not, we needed to prepare for his funeral and interment …
… at three o’clock, Monday morning, it became just one set of arrangements that needed to be made … and that’s when the REAL challenges arose. As I said, the Chin were not familiar with the idea of hospice care … and they weren’t prepared - any more than I was - for the procedural and legal hurdles that needed to be cleared before we could bury our friend. What followed was a week-and-half of local meetings and international phone calls, advances and setbacks, affidavits and inquests.
There may be people in America’s larger cities with expertise in these matters … but not in Midland, Texas … at least, not until now. In America and other western nations, we have become used to almost-instant access with almost everybody, and the ability to speak with people, transmit information and forms to-and-from our offices, our homes, our portable phones. This man had family … but we couldn’t reach them … his wife might be in Myanmar/Burma, or she may have moved across the border to a village in India … his son might be in Myanmar/Burma, or he may have made his way to a refugee camp in Malaysia. This man had information on their full, correct names, and how to get messages to them for arranging phone contact … but he took that information with him. We needed to find a way, within the guidelines set by the Texas Funeral Service Commission, to get permission to bury this man.
That we eventually gathered for a memorial service at a local funeral home, followed by a graveside service at a local cemetery, is a tribute to the way so many people stepped-in and stepped-up to do something, anything to help. One volunteer worked with other members of the Chin community to try to identify numbers on the phone of the deceased man, trying to identify those that would connect them to family members on the far side of the world, then making those calls … others attended meetings the Chin had with funeral directors and cemetery managers to make arrangements and draft contracts … another visited all of the campuses where Chin kids attended school, to advise principals that the kids would need time-off to attend a funeral … others came forward and contributed money to help defray funeral costs … a judge called me at home one night to advise on what I needed to do in order to clear the legal hurdles … an attorney cleared space on her calendar to help me draft an affidavit - and did it again, two days later, to draft a second affidavit … a justice of the peace cleared space on his calendar to hold an inquest and prepare an order allowing me to sign-off on the interment - and did it again, two days later, to prepare a second order allowing me to sign-off on funerary arrangements … pastors and church organists contributed words and music to the services … and so many others offered their prayers and their words of encouragement.
One of the pastors presiding over the memorial service reminded us that, just as it takes a village to raise a child, so it also took a village to lay this man to rest. He was right … and I am grateful for what everyone did … and will continue to do … our experience of this past month already has us planning what we will do in the months ahead to prepare for another such occasion.
But, for me … I’m done with burying, for now … and more-than-ready to get back to blogging.

U.N. assembly condemns Myanmar rights record

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The U.N. General Assembly condemned wide-ranging human rights violations in Myanmar in a resolution adopted early on Thursday.
The resolution on the country formerly known as Burma, voted through by 86-23 with 39 abstentions, "strongly condemns the ongoing systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Myanmar."
It also called on Myanmar's military rulers to immediately release opposition leader and Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, as well as freeing more than 2,000 other prisoners of conscience.
In November, Myanmar's U.N. envoy, Than Swe, rejected the non-binding resolution, then in draft form, calling it "glaringly deficient" and little more than "another means to maintain pressure on Myanmar in tandem with sanctions."
Swe could not be reached for comment on Thursday's vote.
Assembly condemnations of the human rights situation in North Korea, Myanmar and Iran have become an annual ritual in recent years.
This year's vote came after U.N. special rights investigator on Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana told the General Assembly in October that "the situation of human rights in Myanmar remains alarming."
Envoys from nations that rights groups have also accused of having poor human rights records -- including China, Russia, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Egypt and Zimbabwe -- say they generally vote against such resolutions because they oppose singling out specific countries.

Malaysia : Discriminatory Treatment of Migrants


Malaysia hosts an estimated three million documented and undocumented migrants, primarily from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nepal, and the Philippines.Corruption, extortion, and information shortfalls during the recruitment process contribute to deception of migrants about the jobs promised or the validity of their travel documents. Those who do not have legal work permits, including refugees, asylum-seekers, and victims of deception may be subject to arrest, prosecution, and deportation through Malaysia's harsh immigration laws. Punishments can include imprisonment, caning, heavy fines and prolonged detention in overcrowded, unhygienic immigration detention centers.

RELA (Ikatan Relawan Rakyat or People's Voluntary Corps), a half million strong government-backed untrained paramilitary force whose members, in conjunction with immigration and police officers, routinely rounds up suspected undocumented migrants. Abuses committed during raids include physical assault, threats, humiliating treatment, forced entry into living quarters, extortion, theft, and destruction of identity or residency papers.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Malaysian government: Expedite judicial processes and end any form of corporal punishment for immigration offenses. Ensure asylum seekers, refugees, trafficked persons, and abused workers are not subject to penalties imposed under the Immigration Act 1959/63.
Establish a mechanism for migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers to report allegations of abuse anonymously. Those filing charges should be guaranteed legal counsel, permission to work, and safety from detention or deportation until judicial processes are complete.
Abolish RELA, and until such time, restructure it as a volunteer agency with no role in apprehension of irregular migrants.

M’sia a ‘migrants abuser’

Christine Chan
from : malaysiakini

Knowingly or unknowingly government policies worldwide have exposed migrants to human rights abuses, according to Human Rights Watch’s(HRW) round-up report for this year.

The report that includes China, Egypt, France Greece, Italy, Kuwait, Malaysia, Thailand, Russia and United States exposes rampant labour exploitation, inadequate access to health care, prolonged detentions in poor and overcrowded conditions.
On Malaysia, the report says corruption and extortion during the recruitment process contributes to deception of migrants over job promises or the validity of their travel documents.
And migrants who do not have work permits including refugees, asylum seekers, and victims of deportation may be subject to arrest, prosecution and deportation under Malaysia’s harsh immigration law.
Punishment also includes imprisonment, caning, heavy fines, and prolonged detention in overcrowded and unhygienic immigration detention centre. Therefore, for fear of arrest and deportation, these migrants may endure exploitative work conditions.
Besides that, according to the report, our local governments have also condoned vigilante style monitoring of migrants by civilians group known as People’s Voluntary Corp (RELA).
RELA, a half- million strong untrained paramilitary force whose members, in conjunction with immigration and police officers, routinely rounds up suspected undocumented migrants.
Further, it reveals that abuses committed during raids include physical assault, threats, humiliating treatment, forced entry into living quarters, extortion, theft and destruction of identity or residency papers.
‘We need to protect them’
Senior researcher in HRW’s Women’s Rights Division, Nisha Varia said that governments seem to think that when people migrate, they leave their rights at home and instead of protecting these people who are already at risk of abuse, many governments further marginalize and punish them.
“Migrants form the backbone of many economies, performing the labour and services that people in their host countries depend on but will not do it themselves”
“Instead of getting respect, freedom and wages they are owed, they are treated as security threats, and in general, as undesirables to be pushed out of sight,” she said.
HRW recommends the Malaysian government to take the following steps:
Expedite judicial process and end any form of corporal punishment for immigration offences;
Ensure asylum seekers, refugees, trafficked persons, and abused workers are not subject to penalties imposed under the Immigration Act 1959/63;
Establish a mechanism for migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers to report allegations of abuse anonymously. Those filing charges should be guaranteed legal counsel, permission to work, and safety from detention or deportation until judicial processes are complete; and,
Abolish RELA, and until such time, restructure it as a volunteer agency with no role in apprehension of irregular migrants.

Concerns Mounting Over Safety of Chin Refugees in Malaysia

Safety concerns are growing for Chin refugees in Malaysia following a series of continuous raids and arrests by Malaysian authorities and increasing fatal accidents.

About 150 refugees from Burma are reported to have been arrested in a raid by Malaysian RELA Corps in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday.

A Chin refugee Ca Cung, 39, yesterday died at HUKM hospital after being hit by car on 21 December and another refugee Za Hnin, 37, hit by car last Sunday remains in serious condition at hospital.

"Student activist Salai John Ceu Cung Nung and Pu Tluang Hei of ACR (Alliance of Chin Refugee) also died after being hit by car earlier this year and the Malaysian police, though informed, did nothing in regards to the accidents," said Salai Biak Lian Sang, who recently got resettled in the USA from Malaysia.

Recently, the needs for introducing Malaysian road and traffic rules to the Chin refugees have been raised in order to help themselves protect and prevent from this kind of road accidents.

Detained refugee A Thang, a father of four, collapsed unconscious at Langkap Immigration Camp last Thursday due to depression and earlier this month, Ngo Za Pau, 45, died at KLIA Immigration Camp after serious illnees which had been reportedly ignored by the camp authorities.

Last October, an estimated 550 refugees from Burma including 250 Chins were detained in Lenggeng Immigration Camp where detainees were reportedly asked a certain amount of money by the camp authorities to get a priority to meet with the UNHCR team. One of the Chin community leaders in Malaysia said: "In Malaysia, anything can happen at any time. We are not sure if we can actually even celebrate Christmas."

For years, Malaysian police and RELA Corps have been flooded with allegations of corruption and brutality over dealing with refugees stranded in Malaysia.

There are an estimated 40,000 Chin refugees and asylum seekers currently stranded in Malaysia after fleeing systematic repression, persecutions and brutalities from military-ruled Burma.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Burmese PLWHIV in Malaysia

People Living With HIV Need Support And Friends
By Melati Mohd Ariff
November 25, 2009 15:28 PM

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 25 (Bernama) -- Life has not been easy for Ma Hninn Si (not her real name). About two years ago she fled her country with her two younger sisters. They took boat rides twice to reach the Myanmar-Thai border before paying a hefty sum for a safe passage to the Thai-Malaysia border and then to Kuala Lumpur.

The 25-year old petite lady's plight, however, did not end there. Two months after settling down in the city in October 2007, she started having fever, continuous cough and began to lose weight.

She thought it might be malaria, considering the number of days she had to hide in the jungles before taken to the Thai-Malaysia border. She also thought she might be having tuberculosis but never the diagnosis the doctor at a private clinic gave her - infected by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)!

Hninn Si (which in the Myanmarese language means rose flower) was not only in great shock but lost all hopes of living any longer.

"I thought my life was over. There was no future for me. I thought of my sisters as they were still very young. They became refugees because of me.

"Without our parents or close relatives, how could they survive in a foreign country?" lamented Hninn Si.

She shared her difficult times with the participants of a roundtable discussion on HIV and AIDS organised recently by the United Nations Theme Group on HIV.

Hninn Si told Bernama later that she suspected contracting the virus through blood transfusion when she underwent an operation for ulcer in her intestines in 2001.


Stigma and discrimination forced Hninn Si to remain silent on the virus that has been wrecking her small body.

Her friends became suspicious of her condition and began to suspect she had HIV.

"They asked many questions but I did not want to answer. My little sister stopped going to church because she wanted to avoid the questions.

"I was physically and mentally worn out. I was scared to meet people. I told myself I was nothing but I also felt that other people were treating me like I was nothing," she sighed.

Hninn Si became more depressed as the days went by but she was fortunate that she had her two younger sisters looking after her as she fell sick frequently.

"It broke my heart to see my sister working so hard. I should be the one supporting them, but I could not.

"I also needed better food because of my health but I could not afford it. I had no choice but to eat whatever is available," she added.

Hninn Si said one of her sisters worked tirelessly, cleaning restaurants and houses to help put food on the table and pay for the rented room in a flat they shared with many others.

"When I went to check my CD4 count, I was charged double. Every time I visit the government hospital, I have to pay RM30 and that was how much my sister earns a day," she said.


According to Hninn Si, she has never heard of any treatment for HIV. She only thought that once a person had the virus, he or she succumbs to the dreadful disease in a matter of few years.

But her fate changed in early 2008 when a counsellor from Malaysian Care paid her a visit.

"Through his counselling, I knew about HIV treatment for the first time and he encouraged me so much and gave me the much needed hope for the future," she said.

Malaysian Care, a Christian non-governmental organization founded in the late 1970's, offers diversified services such as residential care and community services and is strongly committed to community development.

According to Hninn Si, she was later admitted to Sg Buloh Hospital and received HAART (Highly Active Antiretroviral Theraphy) treatment.

"Sg Buloh hospital is an excellent hospital. Even though I am a refugee, all the staff at the hospital treated me very well. They did all the best for me," she explained.

However, she added, she had terrible side effects for six months that caused her skin to become very dark besides ending up with a swollen face and lips.

"My body was full of marks and rashes. Friends and the people around dare not come close and they did not even want to shake hands with me.

"I was teaching English to refugee students before this and I was very sad when they kept away after getting to know I was HIV positive. I was afraid to even leave the house to go to church," said Hninn Si.

A HIV positive person who suffers such side effects, she said, would have a low self-esteem and that is when friends are needed most.

"I did not receive such support," she said.


Hninn Si said she is much better now not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. She told Bernama she only needs to go to the Sg Buloh Hospital once in four months for follow-up treatment.

In many ways, she considered herself lucky as her ability to converse well in English has enabled her to go to Malaysian clinics unlike most refugees.

She has also regained her self-confidence when she was given a chance by a church to conduct tuition classes for refugee children.

Hninn Si who is an English graduate thought elementary English to a group of refugee children aged from 13 to 18 years old.

"I was finally able to earn an income. It helped to lift my spirits, gave me confidence and restored my dignity," she added.

Hninn Si said she has stopped giving tuition for the past five months as she wanted to focus on her new found job as a peer counselor for a project mooted by UNHCR and Malaysian Care.

The project, she said is known as "Project Long Life" based at the Sg Buloh Hospital.

"As peer counselor, I am not only able to help myself but help others too. But many other refugees who are HIV positive are not so lucky," said Hninn Si.

She told Bernama that she had helped to counsel about 50 refugee HIV patients and admitted that the job has been challenging where she also has to conduct home visits.

"Now if someone asks me what am I doing, I can answer with pride that I have a job even though I am HIV positive. I can share this confidence with others.

"I can also get back into the society. Before, people saw me as a dangerous person but now I understand I am not a harmful person. All HIV positive persons should be given the encouragement and opportunity to work.

"Especially so for HIV positive refugees because they need to be able to earn an income to take better care of their health," said Hninn Si.


Hninn Si also talked about the plight of some HIV positive refugees mainly from Myanmar who suffered from mental problems.

The condition, she said was not only because they were HIV positive but also due to stress and depression resulting from stigma and discrimination including from their own community.

She pointed out there had been cases where the refugees lost their jobs once their boss knew they had HIV.

"They have problems of getting a new job, so how are they going to survive?

"People living with HIV, we all hunger for love, friends and help. Will you be our friend? Your smile is our strength. Your encouragement is our hope.

"Please extend your hands to hold our hands. We are also human beings, please accept us as what we are," she said.


Protection for All Migrants in Malaysia

Press Statement: 18 December 2009

Protection for All Migrants in Malaysia

Today marks International Migrants Day, a day set aside by the United Nations General Assembly to promote the human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants, which include “the design of actions to ensure their protection”[i].

Malaysia is one of the primary destination countries for migrants in Southeast Asia. There are an estimated 2.1 million documented migrant workers in Malaysia and more than 1 million migrants in an irregular situation. The economy of Malaysia is foreign labour dependent – around 25-30 percent of the workforce comprises migrants. Without the labour of migrants, Malaysians would not be able to enjoy the economic recovery and growth it has experienced over the past three decades.

Since International Migrants Day last year, we are pleased to note some progress on the protection of migrants. Specifically, we note the Malaysian government’s willingness to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Indonesian government allowing migrant workers to keep their own passports and to have one day off a week, as well as the government’s willingness to set up joint task force to monitor and settle labor disputes with employers. We look forward to seeing the full implementation of these agreements through real changes in policy and practice. Secondly, we also note the increased efforts of the Royal Malaysian Police in tackling trafficking for sexual and labour exploitation. We urge the Malaysian government to increase the provision of shelters, extending them to men as well as women, and also to ensure that victims are compensated for their losses, not just removed from exploitative conditions.

However, the rights of migrants are still poorly protected in a number of ways. Migrants continue to face significant barriers to access to health services and are subject to discriminatory policies of mandatory testing and deportation for several treatable diseases as well as pregnancy. Those who suffer from violations of labour and human rights – such as cheating by agents, wrongful arrest and detention, unpaid wages, wrongful dismissal, wrongful deduction of wages, accidents in the workplace, abuse, violence, sexual harassment, and rape – are unable to obtain effective redress through the existing legal system.

Documented migrants who initiate court action against their employers have their work permits cancelled thus losing their right to stay in Malaysia as well as their right to work. In order to pursue redress, they are required to apply for a Special Pass, issued at the discretion of the Immigration Department, which grants them the right to stay for a month. Sometimes, applications for these Passes have been refused in spite of evidence produced that court proceedings are underway. NGOs assisting migrants have also been verbally abused for making these applications on behalf of migrants. A fee of RM100 per month is charged for this Special Pass, which can be renewed for a maximum of 90 days. These fees are exorbitant, especially as they are not allowed to work during this time. Often, the resolution of cases through court proceedings and discussions with employers takes longer than 3 months. However, migrants are unable to get their Special Pass extended further. Impoverished and desperate, many opt to return home without obtaining effective redress.

Migrants in detention also face great difficulties obtaining justice through legal proceedings. Many are unable to understand court proceedings and are unable to secure legal aid or assistance from their embassies or employers while held in remand, as they do not have the right to make contact with persons outside of detention facilities. Asylum seekers, refugees, and stateless persons face difficulties contacting the UNHCR to lodge a claim for international protection. Trafficked persons are not identified systematically and removed from Immigration Detention Centres and Prisons. Migrants in an irregular situation are unable to seek protection of the law, as they fear arrest because of their immigration status.

On the occasion of International Migrants Day, we the undersigned organizations call on the Malaysian government to institute reforms to better protect the rights of migrants.

Specifically we call on the Malaysian government to ensure their right to effective protection of the law, their right to effective remedy, and their enforceable right to compensation by instituting the following changes:

* For migrants having suffered from crime – to investigate and prosecute perpetrators and to ensure effective remedy for victims;
* For migrants in detention – to respect their right to communicate with consular or diplomatic authorities, or in the case of asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons, the UNHCR;
* For migrants who have been victims of labour or sex trafficking – to be provided with assistance and services for rehabilitation, repatriation and reintegration, as well as compensation for losses;
* For migrants charged with immigration or criminal offences – to uphold their right to communicate with counsel of their own choosing, to be tried without undue delay, to have the free assistance of an interpreter as needed, and not to be compelled to testify against themselves or to confess guilt;
* For migrants pursuing redress for grievances – to provide Special Passes without cost to migrants until their cases are resolved effectively. The resolution of cases should be timely, fair, and with a means for ensuring effective compensation.

This statement is drafted by members of the Migration Working Group and the Northern Network for Migrants and Refugees (Jaringan Utara Migrasi dan Pelarian, JUMP), and endorsed by the following organizations:

1. Aliran
2. Amnesty International Malaysia
3. Asian Resource Foundation-Asian Muslim Action Network (ARF-AMAN)
4. Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants (EMI)
5. Health Equity Initiatives (HEI)
6. Jaringan Utara Migrasi dan Pelarian (JUMP)
7. Knowledge and Rights with Young people through Safer Spaces
8. Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI)
9. Marie Stopes Papua New Guinea
10. Parti Rakyat Malaysia
11. Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)
12. Penang Office for Human Development (POHD)
13. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
14. Tenaganita
15. The Justice Peace & Solidarity In Mission Office, The Good Shepherd Sisters, Province of Singapore-Malaysia
16. The National Human Rights Society (Persatuan Kebangsaan Hak Asasi Manusia, HAKAM)
17. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Discriminatory Treatment of Migrants


Malaysia hosts an estimated three million documented and undocumented migrants, primarily from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nepal, and the Philippines. Corruption, extortion, and information shortfalls during the recruitment process contribute to deception of migrants about the jobs promised or the validity of their travel documents. Those who do not have legal work permits, including refugees, asylum-seekers, and victims of deception may be subject to arrest, prosecution, and deportation through Malaysia's harsh immigration laws. Punishments can include imprisonment, caning, heavy fines and prolonged detention in overcrowded, unhygienic immigration detention centers.

RELA (Ikatan Relawan Rakyat or People's Voluntary Corps), a half million strong government-backed untrained paramilitary force whose members, in conjunction with immigration and police officers, routinely rounds up suspected undocumented migrants. Abuses committed during raids include physical assault, threats, humiliating treatment, forced entry into living quarters, extortion, theft, and destruction of identity or residency papers.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Malaysian government:

* Expedite judicial processes and end any form of corporal punishment for immigration offenses. Ensure asylum seekers, refugees, trafficked persons, and abused workers are not subject to penalties imposed under the Immigration Act 1959/63.
* Establish a mechanism for migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers to report allegations of abuse anonymously. Those filing charges should be guaranteed legal counsel, permission to work, and safety from detention or deportation until judicial processes are complete.
* Abolish RELA, and until such time, restructure it as a volunteer agency with no role in apprehension of irregular migrants.

Situation of Burmese refugees in Thailand

Situation of Burmese refugees in Thailand

European Parliament resolution of 5 February 2009 on the situation of Burmese refugees
in Thailand
The European Parliament,
– having regard to the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees,
and the 1967 Protocol thereto,
– having regard to its previous resolutions on Burma,
– having regard to Rule 115(5) of its Rules of Procedure,
A. whereas it has been reported that around 1 000 Rohingya boat people from Burma were
intercepted by the navy in Thai territorial waters between 18 and 30 December 2008 and
were subsequently towed into international waters without navigational equipment or
sufficient food and water; whereas many of those boat people are missing and feared
drowned while some of them were rescued by Indonesian or Indian coastguards,
B. whereas the Rohingya people, a mainly Muslim ethnic community in western Burma, are
subjected to systematic, persistent and widespread human rights violations by the ruling
military regime, including refusing them the status of citizenship, imposing severe
restrictions on their freedom of movement, and subjecting them to arbitrary arrest,
C. whereas in recent years thousands of Burmese have fled from their home country because of
the repression and wide-spread hunger and risked their lives to arrive in Thailand and other
south-east Asian countries; whereas Thailand is increasingly becoming a transit destination
for Burmese refugees,
D. whereas the Thai authorities have denied those accusations and Prime Thai Minister Abhisit
Vejjajiva has promised a full investigation,
E. whereas the United Nations Refugee Agency has voiced its concern about the reports of
mistreatment of the Burmese refugees and has gained access to some of the 126 Rohingya
people who are still being held in custody by the Thai authorities,
F. whereas the Thai authorities claim that migrants caught in Thai waters were illegal
economic migrants,
1. Deplores reports of inhumane treatment inflicted on the Rohingya refugees and urges the
Government of Thailand, as a respected member of the international community wellknown
for its hospitality towards refugees, to take all necessary measures to ensure that the
lives of Rohingya people are not at risk and that they are treated in accordance with
humanitarian standards;
2. Strongly condemns the continuous persecution of the Rohingya people by the Burmese
Government, which holds prime responsibility for the plight of the refugees; demands the
restoration of the Burmese citizenship of the Rohingya people, the immediate lifting of all
restrictions on their freedom of movement and their right to be educated and marry, the
cessation of religious persecution and the destruction of mosques and other places of
worship, and an end to all human rights violations across the country as well as deliberate
impoverishment, arbitrary taxation and land confiscation;
3. Appeals to the Thai Government not to return the Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers,
including the boat people, to Burma, where their lives will be in danger or where they may
be subject to torture;
4. Welcomes the statement by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva that the allegations of
mistreatment of Rohingya asylum seekers by the military will be investigated, and requests
that a thorough and impartial inquiry be carried out, with full transparency in order to
establish the facts and take appropriate action against those responsible for mistreatment of
Burmese refugees;
5. Welcomes the Thai Government's cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees and calls for immediate and full access to all the detained Rohingya boat
people in order to define thee level of their need for protection; calls, at the same time, on
the Thai Government to sign the Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol thereto;
6. Stresses that the phenomenon of boat people, which affects Thailand and other countries, is
essentially a regional one; views positively the efforts of the Thai Government to increase
cooperation among regional neighbours to address concerns about the Rohingya people;
welcomes, in this respect, the meeting held on 23 January 2009 by the Thai Permanent
Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Virasakdi Futrakul, with the Ambassadors of India, Indonesia,
Bangladesh, Malaysia and Burma; and appeals to the members of the Association of South
East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and, in particular, its Thai chair and relevant international
organisations, to work on a permanent solution to this long-standing problem;
7. Calls on the Member States to strengthen the EU Common Position, which is due for
renewal in April 2009, in order to address the appalling discrimination against the Rohingya
8. Considers that sending a Parliament delegation to Burma is of major importance in the
present human rights situation, which continues to show no signs of improvement, and
believes that international pressure on the regime should be reinforced;
9. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the
governments of the Member States, the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand, the
Government of Burma, the Secretary-General of the Association of South East Asian
Nations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Secretary-General of
the United Nations.

MALAYSIA Fear, prejudice hinder ministry to migrants

PLENTONG, Malaysia (UCAN) -- Church workers say it is hard to attract volunteers to work with migrants because of prejudice and the fear of falling foul of the law.

Some worry about being arrested for working with undocumented migrants while others see them as criminals or carriers of diseases.

However, "the number of persons arrested for working with undocumented migrants for charitable reasons is extremely low," says Joachim Xavier, chairman of the Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants (ECPCMI).

In any case, "the Church exhorts us to abide by the higher law, God's law, which compels Catholics to respond charitably to all migrants regardless of their documentation status," he said.

The Immigration Act in Malaysia states it is a punishable offense to harbor undocumented persons. "Harboring" includes housing such migrants or being in the same vehicle with them.

Church work with migrants has been traditionally handled at the parish level but that ministry was given a boost in April with the establishment of ECPCMI, which covers Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, all part of the same episcopal conference.

Undocumented migrants include refugees, those without permits, stateless persons and trafficked persons. There are more than 2.2 million foreigners loosely classified as "migrants" in Malaysia.

Xavier says that the authorities usually do not bother people involved in charitable work for undocumented workers.

Church workers in the migrant ministry praying during the training program

ECPCMI organized its first national-level training for migrant ministry workers in early December at the Melaka-Johor diocesan center in Plentong, western Malaysia.

The event saw participants discussing the problems in getting people to work with migrants. Several attendees said it was not just fear of the law that was keeping many away.

Jaycee (not her real name), from Melaka-Johor diocese, said many people have often told her that the Church should help locals rather than migrants. Many view migrants as potential criminals, she said.

Local media sometimes report violent crimes committed by unemployed migrants, though statistics have shown that Malaysians commit 98 percent of crimes in the country.

Another fear is migrant workers bringing diseases into the country, though there are no statistics to prove this, training participants noted.

A total of 67 people from Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei attended the four-day training session.

ECPCMI chaplain Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing of Melaka-Johor said at the opening Mass that the ministry to migrants would remain part of the Church's mission in Malaysia.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It’s tough being a refugee child

According to statistics from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there 17,400 children below the age of 18, out of which 10,000 are of school-going age.

The majority are from Burma comprising Chins, Rohingyas, Burmese Muslims, Kachins and other ethnic minorities.

There are also Sri Lankan, Somalians, Iraqis and Afghans who have found refuge in Malaysia.

Based on these figures, there are over 17,000 children in Malaysia without access to basic education.

This also stems from the fact that Malaysian immigration laws do not recognise refugees, and are often categorised as illegal migrants. As it is, children without proper documentation cannot go to regular schools.
These refugees have no access to legal employment and are forced find work in hazardous conditions with either extremely low wages or none at all.

The lucky ones have been able to attend either education projects run by UNHCR and NGO partners, or community-based education classes that are organised by the refugee communities themselves.

It is estimated that only a third of refugee children of school-going age have access to any kind of education.

“According to the United Nation Convention of the Rights of the Child, no child, irrespective of creed, caste and colour, should be discriminated against,” said United Nation Children’s Fund (Unicef) Malaysia representative, Youssouf Omar (above).

Malaysia had ratified the convention in 1995 as part of its commitment to protect and respect the rights of a child.

Nevertheless, a report by UNHCR on the general population of refugee and stateless children in Malaysia reveals that they do not have any access to formal education.

External relations officer of UNHCR, Yante Ismail, said that refugee children living in exile are often denied normal childhood.

“Security fears make everyday activities, like playing outdoors, difficult,” she said.

Education system

According to Yante, UNHCR partners NGOs to run structured, education projects for refugee children.

She said that eight such projects are located in Kuala Lumpur, Johor and Selangor with participating students being typically aged between 5 and 16.

NGOs also, she said, provide training for refugee teachers to improve their skills. These teachers utilise Malaysian school textbooks to teach four main subjects – English, Maths, Science and Bahasa Melayu.

“Aside from the structured education projects run by NGOs that partner UNHCR, the refugees themselves run community-based schools on their own to meet the needs of their communities,” she said.

She said that these schools are located wherever there are refugee communities with a large number of children of school-going age.

At least 65 such schools are located in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor with the total enrolment figure reaching over 3,300.

The scope and reach of these classes are largely restricted by the lack of resources, including qualified teachers.

Based on Malaysiakini’s visits to these schools, it is common for classes to be held in rented flats or shop houses, where rooms are converted into classrooms, largely overcrowded and lacking in basic facilities.

Funding for teachers salaries, transportation for children, payment of utilities and rental of school premises and meals for children in schools are also lacking.

There is an urgent need for stationery, teaching-related equipment, skill-training for teachers and volunteers to help with teaching and administration.

Youssouf agreed that while efforts have been made, more can be done. He said that it should be the collective responsibility of the government, NGOs and Malaysians to improve the lot of refugee children.

Government’s stand needs review

Secretary-general of the Education Ministry, Zulkurnain Awang, said that the government does not have the resources to provide for the education of refugee children.

Nevertheless, he welcomes NGOs efforts to provide for these children.

Hartini Zainuddin (below), the general manager of Nur Salam which provides schooling for these refugee children, said the government needs to relook its education policies related to this issue.

“If we ask them, they will say that we have so many Malaysian children and we do not have the resources to provide for these refugee children whose parents do not contribute to Malaysia,” she said.

Hartini claimed that when Nur Salam first started, they had 66 cases of abused children without proper documents.

“And it turned out except for two, all were Malaysians.The authorities could have done more to help these children who were walking around the streets without papers,” she said.

Youssouf, too, feels that more can be done by the Malaysia government.

“In a country of 27 million inhabitants, I do not think that it is a big problem to cater for the education of 17,000 children. It could be done if there is willingness from the civil society,” he said.

He added that dialogues among the stakeholders was vital to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the refugees and their problems.

Burma’s Christian Refugees Face Deportation from Thailand

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

(ANS) -- More than 70 Burmese children, mostly Christians, who fled to the Thai side of the border following fresh attacks by a Buddhist militia in June, are being pressured to return to their highly unsafe country.

International Christian Concern (ICC) logo

According to International Christian Concern (ICC) — -- on Friday morning, Thailand’s border police stormed the Shekinah (Glory to God) orphanage in Mae Hong Son Province near the Burma border, put the names of all the residents on a register and asked them to prepare for deportation, said a worried caretaker.

“If the children go back, they will be killed. This should never happen,” she cried out, adding that she had informed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) about the possible move by the Thai government.

ICC reports that just a week earlier the 76 children between the ages of six and 16 were moved to the new location, around 100 miles from Mai Sariang town in northern Thailand. They live in thatched structures built on a privately owned patch of land on a hill covered with dense forest.

According to ICC, after their arrival in Thailand in June, the children were temporarily moved to another orphanage close-by. However, due to the spread of Malaria in that orphanage, they were quickly shifted to the new location, which was under construction.

“Last week, I attended the funeral of an eight-year-old girl, Poh Poh, a resident of our orphanage, who died of Malaria,” said the caretaker, adding that following her death, the volunteers and the residents stepped up the work at the new site and made temporary stairs leading downhill from the main road.

Though newly built, the Shekinah orphanage, which was initially established on the Burma side of the border, has dormitories, a meeting hall and open-air kitchen and mess, ICC said.

ICC went on to say that the land belongs to a Christian couple who serve as the principals of the school at the orphanage. “We have six teachers, but we are yet to build classrooms. We are currently teaching under the tree,” said the female principal.

ICC also states the children at the Shekinah orphanage are young, but they are grateful to the volunteers and the caretakers and see them as their role models. When asked what their dreams in life were, most of them said they wanted to become missionaries to the Burmese refugees.

“I would not like to be resettled in the West; I want to serve God in the border area,” said a 13-year-old girl, Persaw Paw. Then she broke down and cried narrating how both her parents died of sickness six years ago.

While many of the children are orphans — whose parents have either been killed by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) or died of sickness — the others do not even know whether their parents are alive or dead.

“According to the news reaching us, these children may not see their parents again,” said a volunteer of the orphanage with tears in her eyes.

“Though at tender ages, when the children gather in one of the huts made of bamboo sticks and wooden planks for prayer every morning, they raise hands to heaven or fold them in front of their chests, asking God to save the lives of their friends and family in Burma,” ICC says in a web posting.

ICC explains the residents are among the over 4,000 Karen people, mostly Christians, who crossed the river Moei in boats after DKBA soldiers fired mortars on and captured their villages in Burma’s Karen State in early June. Moei forms natural border between the two Buddhist-majority countries.

It adds that the Karen ethnic people, both Buddhist and Christians, have been involved in a struggle against the repression and brutality by Burma’s military junta since 1949. They want a federal Burma as opposed to the central military rule, and are sympathetic to the pro-democracy movement in the country.

Initially, the Karen people led their struggle under the one banner of Karen National Union (KNU). However, in 1994, some Buddhists from KNU’s Christian-majority resistance force, the Karen National Liberation Army, splintered and formed the DKBA.

It is believed that the DKBA is now a proxy force of the military junta and carries out its “ethnic cleansing” policy.

ICC says that around 90 percent of the population of Burma is Buddhist. The four-percent Christian minority faces persecution on a regular basis.

ICC also states the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has designated Burma, officially known as Myanmar, as a “Country of Particular Concern” since 1999.

“The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the military junta governing Burma, has one of the world’s worst human rights records,” notes the USCIRF annual report of 2009.

“In the past year,” it adds, “religious freedom conditions deteriorated in Burma… and Burma’s military regime continued its policy of severely restricting religious practice, monitoring the activity of all religious organizations, and perpetuating or tolerating violence against religious leaders and their communities.”

Thailand has over 140,000 Karen refugees, many of them Christians, along the 300-mile Burma border. Since the government of Thailand does not officially recognize them as refugees, they are confined to the border areas with no job opportunities.

ICC goes on to say there are seven Karen refugee camps in Thailand, overseen by the country’s interior ministry and jointly funded by non-profit groups. However, due to the overcrowding of these camps — thanks to the regular influx of refugees — thousands of migrants have made their homes deep in the jungles.

According to the law of the land, the “illegal migrants” are subject to arrest, detention and deportation.

“But a basic humanitarian response by Thai authorities is what we are asking and praying for,” said a concerned volunteer.

Why detainees turn grass-eaters ?

Leptospirosis, a communicable disease, has been linked to environmental contamination in Malaysian detention centres, where eight deaths have been recorded this year.

Dr Anis Salwa Kamarudin of the Health Ministry’s public health division said the cases are linked to certain habits of detainees, such as eating grass and walking around barefooted.

“Some of these detainees like to eat grass which grows in the camp (compound),” she said in a written response on how the disease spreads and what measures are being taken to prevent the incidence of communicable diseases in immigration detention centres.

In May, two detainees died of leptospirosis at the Juru immigration detention centre, while six more succumbed in August at the KLIA immigration detention depot.

Anis explained that infection occurs either directly through contact with urine or tissues of animal carcasses, or indirectly through the contaminated environment soil, water, drainage and plants.

This includes consumption of contaminated food and water, as well as breathing air with the leptospira bacteria.

The spread of infectious diseases in detention centres is also due to overcrowding and poor hygiene, Anis said.

“Diseases spread easily where the population density is high – scabies, impetigo, tuberculosis, pneumonia and influenza are among the communicable diseases,” she said.

Diarrhoea, enterovirus, hand, mouth and foot disease, salmonella, Hepatitis A and polio are spread through contaminated faeces, while Hepatitis B and C, HIV/Aids and cytomegalovirus are caused by contamination of the blood.

Anis said the ministry has taken several measures to ensure the health and safety of the detainees, to control leptospirosis among other diseases.

These include annual inspection of cleanliness of living quarters, water supply, and areas where food is handled, prepared and served.

Medical services are extended to immigration detention centres every fortnight, with referrals to hospitals when required.

‘More needs to be done’

Tenaganita director Florida Sandanasamy said, however, that much more can and should be done to improve the health of detainees.

She questioned the quality and adequacy of food and water supplies, pointing out that no one will resort to eating grass unless they are desperate.

Detention centres should have an in-house doctor to provide immediate medical attention, she said.

“When detainees complain of sickness, they are often not taken seriously and have to repeatedly ask for treatment. Sometimes, when their condition worsens and they are rushed to the hospital, it is too late.

“The government should also have better planning in space allocation, as it is a known fact that densely populated areas attract all kind of diseases.”

Florida also pointed to dirty toilets and the lack of proper bedding – or filthy, bug-infested items – as other sources of problems.

“In fact, the detainees are not given a change of clothes, sometimes having to wear the same clothing until they are released,” she claimed.

She also called for attention to the mental health and overall well being of detainees, as this has been neglected by the government.

“The detainees suffer from trauma and abuse, and are very prone to depression,” she added.

Christine Chan in the M kini
Not including medical cost, the government says that a sum of RM30 is spent per migrant per day…and, this is surely to provide good balanced diet, clean food trays, bedding, clothes and slippers… RM30 works out RM900 per month, and this is more than what most workers earn monthly… (Comment: MACC should check who misused the money.)
First, it was the Immigration Department who ran these Detention Centres, but they did not do a good job, and the government transferred the responsibility to the experts, the Prison Department. Then, for no reason this responsibility was given to RELA…and, maybe it has now been handed back to the Immigration Department…or is still under RELA?
On 23rd April 1999, the Malaysian government together with other ASEAN governments signed THE BANGKOK DECLARATION ON IRREGULAR MIGRATION, and declaration 14 states as follows:-

Irregular migrants should be granted humanitarian treatment, including appropriate health and other services, while the cases of irregular migration are being handled according to law. Any unfair treatment towards them should be avoided;

Health services was specifically mentioned. We recall that it was reported in the media in December 2008, that “About 1,300 illegal foreigners have died during detention in the past six years, Malaysia Nanban quoted Malaysian Human Rights (Suhakam) commissioner Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam as saying. He said many of them died in immigration detention centres, prisons and police lockups because they were denied medical treatment at the right time.” [Star, 18/12/2008, ‘1,300 foreign detainees died due to neglect’] This was again reiterated ABC News(28/5/2009) Malaysia detention centres ‘violating rights’ .The Bar Council tells us that, “…The Dewan Rakyat figure would mean that an average of one migrant dies in custody almost every day!” – Bar Council: Deaths of migrants in prisons, rehabilitation and detention centres
Finally, the government tells us that it is because migrants eat grass…and walk around barefooted..Are they not provided footware?
The detention centers are an enclosed environment, it is not a village where animals may be freely moving around….or dying. Hygine of all detention places, especially within the fences, should be kept hygienic, clean and disease free. And why are detainees eating grass …are they not been sufficiently fed? Are they being starved…that they are force to eat grass?

Rela members will be trained to take over the full-time running of the country’s 14 immigration depots by the end of the year.
Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad said in a recent Cabinet decision, Rela had been given control of all such detention centres, which currently housed some 11,000 illegal immigrants.
Previously, these centres were run and managed by the staff from the Prisons Department, which came under the purview of the Internal Security Ministry.
“However, we will need about two years to train our own staff in running these immigration centres. So, for the time being, Rela members will be put in charge of these centres.- Star, 22/11/2007, Rela to take over immigration depots

Access to health care in detention centres is once every two weeks… for how many hours? Considering the number of detainees and their living condition, this is certainly far from adequate. There should be a permanent mini-clinic at every detention centre manned by a medical assistant, and a doctor at the very least. After all, there is already admission that it is indeed an environment that people can easily contract diseases.
No Za Bou, Women Migrant from Burma dies in KLIA Detention Centre – Could this death have been avoided with proper healthcare?
Minister of Health’s lack of response shows a lack of accountability – Death of Migrants in Detention Centres by reason of Leptospirosis

Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) makes it 26 groups concerned about recent death of 6 Burmese in detention
2 migrants fell sick and died at the KLIA Immigration Depot. Could death have been avoided if the required healthcare was available?
126 groups:- Death of 2 Burmese Indicative of State of Detention Places in Malaysia – Denial of Healthcare Is a Violation of Right to Life

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Asylum seekers still face deportation threat

Aliran strongly urges the government to stop deportation of undocumented migrants some of whom could be asylum seekers qualifying for determination of their status as refugees by UNHCR.

Aliran was informed that on 7 October 2009, 207 Sri Lankan migrants were arrested and detained in the KLIA Immigration Depot. Among them were 15 women and six children. Some of them are fearful of being deported to their home country as their lives might be in danger if they are repatriated.

Information received by Aliran recently is that UNHCR was refused access to these Sri Lankan asylum seekers and refugees by the Malaysian Government, effectively violating their right to seek asylum under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR).

A few weeks ago about 200 Myanmar migrants were repatriated in an official repatriation exercise agreed between the Malaysian and Myanmar governments. Although, the Myanmar government claims, it is initiating these repatriations to re-employ jobless Myanmar migrant workers in their own country (www.china, 7 October 2009), many who have been found ‘undocumented’ or whose documentation was ‘unrecognised’ were deported prior to this official repatriation. In cases, UNHCR-registered refugees and asylum seekers were known to be amongst the numbers deported out of the country or sold to human traffickers.

Unofficial figures from a reliable source put the number of Myanmar nationals deported in the recent government repatriation exercise at nearly 1,700 persons. A majority are said to be reluctant to return to their country but might do so, forced by the inhuman and squalid conditions in Malaysian immigration detention centres, where outbreaks of illnesses are increasing in frequency due to bad food given to detainees and insanitary detention conditions.

A United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants 2008 report states that nearly 2,300 refugees and asylum seekers were deported by Malaysian authorities to Thailand last year, and “at least 14 of whom Thai authorities deported on to Myanmar”. Deportees are also vulnerable to being trafficked by human traffickers, as the report further explains.

Lacking humanity

Deportation of undocumented migrants, asylum seekers and refugees has been taking place as early as the 1990s (Los Angeles Times, ‘World in Brief, Malaysia, ‘317 Vietnamese Refugees Sent Home’ 20 April 1996), as Malaysian immigration laws fail to comply with international human rights requirements and standards.

These arbitrary deportations amounting to refoulement (in the case of asylum seekers and refugees) are in blatant disregard of Malaysia’s obligations as a member of the UN Human Rights Council and the United Nations. The concerns raised by various quarters stem from the overall inhuman treatment of ‘undocumented’ migrants who form the bulk of immigration detainees, from arrest to deportation.

(Refoulement is defined as the removal of a person to a territory where she/he would face persecution. Refoulement constitutes a violation of the principle of non-refoulement, and is therefore a breach of refugee law and of customary international law ( It is also a violation of Article 14 of the UDHR.

Conditions of detention remain “inhuman and degrading” as described by Amnesty International in its 2004 Report on mass deportation of undocumented migrant workers including refugees and asylum seekers. These conditions have in fact worsened with reports of deaths occurring in immigration detention centres this year due to contagious diseases, alleged torture by police and in cases,unknown causes which have been revealed in a plethora of more recent reports and memoranda by numerous other Malaysian and international NGOs concerned with migrants and refugees (e.g. NGO Joint Press Statement, 25 September 2009).

The 2004 AI Report stated amongst other things: “In any case of mass expulsions, there is a risk that the expulsion will be tainted with discrimination and arbitrariness, and will therefore be inherently unlawful. The collective nature makes it virtually impossible for the state to provide the necessary procedural guarantees and to ascertain whether those expelled are some who are legally entitled to be in the country.”

Not only is deportation of refugees in violation of human rights, the manner in which it is carried out is a process lacking humanity. This was clearly evidenced in the 2006 case of Timah Basir and Nurhani Nurmi, who were both deported with their parents from Sabah to the Philippines.

Timah Basir, 13, reportedly “died of severe malnutrition and hypoglycemia hours after the ferry left Sabah.” Three year old Nurmi died a day after arriving in Zamboanga, Philippines, from chronic gastroenteritis, severe malnutrition and pneumonia. (, INQ7, posted 31 Oct 2006)

Denial of international protection

Mass deportations of Acehnese were carried out in the years prior to the 26 December 2004 tsunami disaster that destroyed Aceh and the subsequent peace agreement between Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM) rebels and the Indonesian government. This was despite some of them being refugees and asylum seekers.

Since the peace agreement, the Acehnese are no longer classified as refugees by the UNHCR. The Malaysian Government should not return or allow refugees and asylum seekers to be returned by force to situations that endanger their lives. Doing so contravenes the principle of non-refoulement.

The Malaysian authorities’ actions in August 2003 undoubtedly revealed the intention to deny asylum seekers international protection. In that year, Malaysian police set up road blocks around the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kuala Lumpur and “detained scores” of Acehnese asylum seekers who wanted to be registered with UNHCR, preventing asylum seekers from being registered with the UN Refugee Agency.

The UNHCR spokesperson said then in his press statement that “because of the situation in Aceh “we believe that these civilian Acehnese must be protected and should not be returned to Aceh”; where 600 people had been killed in Indonesian government military operations against Acehnese GAM rebels and a series of human rights violations were known to have occurred. (World Socialist Web Site The same principle applies to all refugees and asylum seekers regardless of nationality.

Clearly, undocumented migrants, asylum seekers and refugees should not be returned to situations in home countries where they would face human rights abuse such as arbitrary imprisonment, persecution, torture and possibly death. Burmese deportees who have returned to Malaysia after being deported to Myanmar testify that they were detained for “up to 5 months”, tortured and fined 6,000 to 50,000 Myanmar kyats (US$1,000 to US$7,900) (USCRI, World Refugee Survey 2008 - Malaysia).

Yet the Malaysian Government persists in deporting migrants allegedly ‘undocumented’ including asylum seekers and refugees, returning them to life-endangering and human rights-abusive situations that exist in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and other countries from which migrants may emigrate for safety reasons.

In 2003, assurances had also been given by the Malaysian government to the UN Refugee Agency that persons fleeing situations of conflict “would not be sent back to a situation that could endanger their lives and well being.” (UN News Service, 5 Sept 2003) This was with reference to the droves of Acehnese refugees who had then sought safety in Malaysia from the conflict in their homeland. Yet, in September that year UNHCR’s High Commissioner publicly called for a moratorium on deportations of Indonesian asylum seekers in Malaysia.

The High Commissioner noted that reports of deportation of persons seeking asylum here were “at odds with the recent assurances from Malaysian officials…” The High Commissioner had also spoken to senior officials in the Foreign Ministry and a high-level delegation was subsequently sent to Kuala Lumpur to discuss ways of handling asylum issues to meet refugee protection needs (UN News Service, ‘Malaysia: UN agency seeks moratorium on deportations of asylum seekers’, 5 September 2003).

In spite of these efforts by the UNHCR, the same reassurances given by the current administration remain as lip-service to Malaysia’s international legal obligations to uphold and promote human rights for peace and security in the region and in the wider international community.

To improve the situation, the government must:
• devise clear procedures to register and categorise undocumented migrants,
• institute a moratorium on deportation/refoulement of asylum seekers and refugees,
• set up a mechanism to ensure that the UNHCR is notified of the detention of asylum seekers who are undocumented,
• allow the release of undocumented asylum seekers for registration and assessment of their cases by the UN Refugee Agency,
• amend the Immigration Act 1959 to include provisions recognising asylum seekers and refugees,
• recognise UNHCR documentation,
• reverse policies categorising asylum seekers and refugees as ‘illegal immigrants’,
• ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention, and
• fulfil Malaysia’s international obligations to uphold and promote human rights to maintain international peace and security (UN Charter Art.1 and Art. 2) as a member of the UN Human Rights Council and the United Nations.

Angeline is an Aliran member with a special interest in the rights of migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers.

Burmese refugee tale a tribute to reporter's persistence

S alt Lake Tribune reporter Julia Lyon says she drew a long stream of negative responses when she tried to make a trip to Thailand to find the Burmese refugee camp where Hser Ner Moo and her family lived before they came to Utah.

Hser Ner Moo is the little girl found murdered in her South Salt Lake neighbor's apartment about a year and a half ago. The Tribune ran a special section last Sunday about the case, a tragic tale that dramatically illustrates the plight of refugees in this country.

"I've never been told no as many times as I was before I went to Thailand. 'No, we can't help you access the refugee camps.' 'No, journalists aren't allowed in the refugee camps.' Perhaps being from a lesser-known paper complicated things. I e-mailed with a CNN reporter who made it sound like the camp doors swung open the second he arrived," Lyon said.

Finally, with the help of a $7,500 International Reporting Project grant, she flew to Thailand and spent almost a month hunting down the story. There was fighting on the northern border of Burma (Myanmar), driving more refugees into Thailand. The Thai government would not give her a refugee camp pass.

"I had arranged interviews in Bangkok for my first week in Thailand, but after that, my trip was open. I had assumed the names and sources I had built up before the trip would help me. In fact, I found the best approach was talking to anyone who would listen.

"My first night
in Mae Sot, a town in Thailand near the Burmese border, I sat down in a bar, part-terrified, part-determined to find someone who could get me inside the camps. An older Burmese exile led me to Winston Win, who was critical to my success. Many beers and songs later, he contacted his friend at Mae La Camp. That person agreed to be my guide and, on occasion, interpreter," Lyon explained.

"Five grueling days later -- we had climbed up steep hills, waded in mud and gone back to people's homes countless times -- I had my story," she said.

But finding sources was not the only hardship. Each night Lyon made sure she had enough bottled water and food for the next day. In the early morning, she packed batteries, notebooks, pens and hand sanitizer then climbed on a rickety bike and rode to the bus station.

Lyon said, "I was on edge -- concerned that I would be turned in or kicked out. I typically kept my notebook and camera stuffed in my bag, only taking them out for seconds unless I was inside."

Hotels -- ranging from $5 to $50 a night -- were pretty basic. TV was not always available. "But I always stayed somewhere with Wi-Fi so I could work. On one occasion I watched Chinese state television because nothing else was on."

Lyon used bottled water to brush her teeth and drink, but there were several times when she got severely dehydrated and thought she might faint. "Truly the hardest thing to get used to was the heat and humidity. Sometimes it felt like showering was a waste of time."

Salt Lake Tribune Editor Nancy Conway applauds this kind of effort. "We support good journalism. We look for opportunities. International reporting widens your scope. The world is smaller now."

If you missed Julia's report -- called "A Missing Peace" -- in the newspaper, you can still read it online at

Reader Advocate's number is 801-257-8782. Write to Reader Advocate, The Salt Lake Tribune, P.O. Box 867, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110. E-mail: