Saturday, May 30, 2015

Chin refugees: Changing destiny through education

2015-05-30 14:50

Most of the Chin refugees in Seremban live in these flats in Lobak. Photo courtesy: Sin Chew Daily

SEREMBAN, May 29 (Sin Chew Daily) -- While many are focusing on the Rohingyas in recent weeks, we might not be aware that there are also refugees from another ethnic group in Myanmar flocking into our country, and they have over the years assimilated themselves into the Malaysian society.

These are the Chins numbering about five million in Myanmar, 90% of whom Christians. Many of them have escaped from the government's systematic persecution since many years ago.

According to the 2006 "Chin Refugees in Malaysia" report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide Hong Kong, the Chins left their native country because of several factors, including the government ban on Christian activities, forcing them to embrace Buddhism, extortion by the military, etc.

Many Chin refugees still crave to return to their motherland but this will only be possible with changed administration.

Running from persecution

One of the larger Chin settlements in the country can be found in Lobak near Seremban, with about 500 ethnic Chin residents.

26-year-old Richard, a Chin refugee who has escaped to Malaysia for about five years now, told Sin Chew Daily he came to the country to seek asylum with the help of an agent and some relatives who had left Myanmar.

To escape persecution and suppression, he was forced to separate with his parents and four younger siblings on his boat journey to Malaysia, and was assisted by his relatives in Seremban.

Currently Richard is still awaiting the opportunity for UNHCR placement to a third country..

He said he was not sure since when the Chins had first come to Malaysia, adding that there were already Chins from his native village traveling to Malaysia as early as in 2008. They arrived here mostly through the assistance of their relatives already living in Malaysia.

"The first problem we came across after arriving here was to get a place to stay. Malaysians generally have bad perception towards us and many are unwilling to let their premises to us because we do not have fixed incomes, especially those without the official refugee certificates."

Not allowed to work

Richard obtained his refugee certificate first through registration with the Chin Refugee Committee in Malaysia before a refugee certificate was issued to him by the UNHCR. He said not all Chins from his village could get the refugee certificates.

He said some of the refugees without assistance from their relatives were unable to approach the refugee committee and were thus prone to deportation because they did not carry the refugee certificates.

He told Sin Chew Daily refugee certificates, which allow them to stay in Malaysia before they are sent to third countries, need to be renewed every three years.

These refugee certificates, nevertheless, do not grant them the permission to work legally in this country. As a result, many would work illegally in order to make a living.

Refugees normally work in restaurants and construction sites, earning generally lower salaries than locals or legal foreign workers.

Richard said they could earn from several hundred ringgit to RM1,000 every month in the absence of "interruption/"

The so-called "interruption" as Richard related includes raids by the enforcement units and extortion from local rascals.

"They know we are refugees and there is no one to help us even if we report to the police. So they just extort us openly. Many of my friends have been mugged and has surrendered their mobile phones, hard earned money and even refugee certificates."

Luckily not everyone is that bad. Richard said many Malaysians were actually very friendly and helpful.


Talking about life back in Myanmar, Richard said many Chin families made a living by farming, adding that many ethnic Chins with tertiary education backgrounds were also denied of good job prospects because of their ethnicity.

"Chins are a minority in Myanmar numbering about five million in 2013 or less than 10% of the country's total population. Even if they have good education, they won't get good jobs."

He said the Myanmar government would suppress the ethnic Chins in all kinds of ways, including searching their houses and taking away young men to work as coolies.

"We were forced to manually transporting weapons for them and those who dared to oppose them would be severely punished. Even if we were exhausted and thirsty, we couldn't stop to drink or would be punished."

Richard found the opportunity to escape and went into hiding with the help of fellow villagers. He then started to make arrangements to escape to another country. He finally managed to raise enough fund for the escape with the financial assistance from his relatives in the United States.

"Luckily my younger brother was not caught to become a coolie. Many family has no intention of coming over here (Malaysia). As a matter of fact, instead of waiting for placement to a third country, many Chins prefer to go home and be reunited with their families.

"But so long as the military regime is still in power, returning to Myanmar is a suicidal act.

The third countries that will take in refugees include the United States, Australia, Canada and Denmark, but these countries are now tightening their refugee policies.

"We used to have plenty of choices during the early years but now things begin to change. We can only go to a third country through UNHCR, and need to go through interviews and a series of eligibility assessments."

Changing destiny through education

Richard, who is the principal of a refugee school in Lobak, said his ambition was to become a pastor.

"There are several churches in Seremban that are treating us very kindly. They even get people to sponsor equipment and expenses to the school. We are really very thankful to them."

There are currently 110 students aged between 4 and 15 at the school where five ethnic Chin teachers teach English, mathematics, science and the Chin language.

"These students are the children of refugees running to Seremban. We now urgently need voluntary teachers to teach high school curriculum. Students reaching 16 years old should receive high school education but we simply lack qualified teachers for that.

"We have never thought of leaving our homeland for good, and the Chin language will be useful when we get back to our country one day. We must never forget our own language.

"We hope to change our destiny through education."

Myanmar has right to decide but not if they affect neighbours, says Najib


Published: 30 May 2015 7:31 PM

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak delivers a speech during a function in Kuala Perlis today. Najib says Myanmar has the right to make decisions but it should not be at the expense of other countries in the region. 

– The Malaysian Insider pic by Hasnoor Hussain, May 30, 2015.Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak today said Myanmar had the right to make decisions but it should not be at the expense of other countries in the region.

He said this as Asean countries tried to reach an amicable solution over the Rohingya refugees’ crisis, which has led to a serious human trafficking problem in the region.

Najib said Asean policy was not to interfere with the affairs of its members.

"We have an understanding that we do not interfere with the internal affairs of other Asean countries.

"Myanmar has its right to make its own decisions but those decisions should not cause problems at the expense of its neighbours and cost lives.

"When such things happen, it badly affects the image of Asean collectively," he told reporters in a press conference in Kangar, Perlis after attending the Desa Sejahtera 1Malaysia award ceremony in Kampung Kurong Tengar in Perlis this afternoon.

How Malaysia dealt with the crisis is being watched by the international community, as well as the media, as the country is the current chair of Asean.

Najib said all member nations of the region must come together and he was thinking that Malaysia should host a mini Asean summit to address the issue.

"I have asked our Foreign Minister to see if we can host a mini summit, where we can discuss in an Asean spirit to reach a solution to this problem,” he said.

The Malaysian police announced on Monday that they found 139 suspected graves near 28 human trafficking camps in the jungle of Wang Kelian near the Malaysian-Thai border when they began combing the area from Tangga Seratus to Kampaung Wai from May 11 to May 23.

The camps were built deep in the hilly jungle and are difficult to access. Some camps were huge and could have held hundreds of migrants, who were mainly believed to be Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and Bangladeshis brought across the border to Malaysia from Thailand.

Myanmar has refused to acknowledge the Rohingya minority, who are Muslims, as citizens of the country. Faced by oppression, many have been risking their lives to seek asylum in countries like Malaysia.

More than 30 remains of suspected victims of human trafficking had been found in Wang Kelian

On what Malaysia planned to do to resettle the Rohingyas, who have landed in the country and now held at the Belantik immigration detention depot in Sik, Kedah, after a year, Najib said the focus noe was saving the people who were still adrift.

"If possible, we want to safe them and shelter them so they can live in dignity and can have a future.

"What we will do later, we have to discuss with the leaders of other countries, including the United States, so everyone will be playing their part.

Earlier today, PKR international bureau chief and Alor Star MP Gooi Hsiao Leung in a statement urged Najib to take the lead on the issue.

He said with Malaysia as a member of the United Nations Security Council and the current chair of Asean, Najib has to make a clear and unequivocal public stand on Malaysia’s position.

Among others, he said Malaysia has to fully support the UN General Assembly resolution passed last year to urge Myanmar to provide “full citizenship” rights to its Rohingya Muslim minority and to allow them basic freedoms, such as education, healthcare, and the right to move freely throughout the country. – May 30, 2015.

- See more at:

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Rohingya are refugees but Bangladeshis are not !

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will waste no time in repatriating about 1,000 Bangladeshi illegal immigrants who came ashore in Langkawi on May 11.

Home Deputy Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said this would be done upon completion of the documentation of the refugees.

He said the other 400 Rohingya refugees who landed with the Bangladeshis would be handed over to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"We will send the illegal Bangladeshis back to their country immediately after the documentation process is completed.

"The 400 Rohingya refugees will be sent to the UNHCR as it is their responsibility, including sending the refugees to third countries," he said when met at the Parliament lobby here Tuesday.

It was reported that about 1,400 Bangladeshis and Rohingya, including women and children, arrived in a boat at Langkawi.

Wan Junaidi described the issue of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar as a serious problem which must be dealt with, by the government of that country and it was not under the jurisdiction of Malaysia or ASEAN.

He said Malaysia was unwilling to allow the presence of illegals to burden the country.

"We are facing the problem of an influx of millions of illegals in the employment sector. This has resulted in the local society facing employment and social problems, and diseases brought by the illegals.

"I am giving a clear signal that illegals are not welcome to this country and the Rohingya refugee problem is Myanmar's problem," he said. - Bernama

Comments : I do agree with Home Deputy Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, The Malaysia and the world the difference between Rohingya and Bangladeshis ! Most Bangladeshis enter Burma illegally and they joined to boat together with Rohingya to Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia !  Rohingya speaks good Burmese but Bangladeshis don't ! I met many Bangladeshis using Fate UNHCR cards and they cliam themselves Rohingya  ! This is not a good fact for Rohingya . 

Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand still aren’t taking real responsibility for refugees

Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand still aren’t taking real responsibility for refugees


Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University

Katharine Jones is affiliated with Scottish Refugee Council and Scottish Detainee Visitors. She has received funding from ILO and IOM.

The joint announcement that Indonesia and Malaysia would “take in” approximately 7,000 migrants adrift on the high seas implies that they have taken some measure of legal responsibility. But the gesture is in fact subject to strict limitations – and the countries behind it are doing little to honour the responsibilities they so clearly bear.

In fact, they have been shown up by some of their poorest citizens. As thousands of refugees remained stranded in the seas of south east Asia, fishermen and their families living on the Indonesian island of Aceh, which is still recovering from the devastating tsunami of 2004, exhibited something that the national governments of the region have so far failed to show: basic humanity.

Even as these countries' leaders refused to let boatloads of an estimated 8,000 stricken migrants land, actually going so far as to tow boats of increasingly desperate people back out to sea, local fishermen and their families – many of whom live in serious poverty – stepped in to help around 1,300 “boat people” ashore. Many applauded them, but not everyone was pleased.

Indonesian military spokesman Fuad Basya said that fishermen could deliver food, fuel and water to the boats or help with repairs to see them on their way, but that bringing the migrants to shore would amount to facilitating an “illegal entry” into Indonesia.

Horrifying reports of starvation and of violence on what the UN has referred to as “floating coffins” were dismissed by the Indonesian, Malaysian and Thai governments in the name of protecting national borders from those deemed “illegal”.

So who or what has jurisdiction for the deadly crisis at this point? And are the migrants actually “illegal”?
Temporary responsibility

Indonesia and Malaysia have made it clear that their rescue agreement is a one-time-only offer, and that it guarantees no future landings of migrants arriving by boat. Crucially, they are not offering asylum, but merely temporary refuge for migrants pending “resettlement and repatriation”, which they expect to be conducted by the “international community” within a year.

The foreign minsters of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. EPA/Fazry Ismail

While they have apparently taken responsibility for the immediate crisis, it turns out that Indonesia and Malaysia have agreed merely to allow UNHCR to “process” these people and send them either back to Myanmar or to other countries – if any willing to host them can be found.

At the time of writing, the Thai government remains resolute, bolstered by the Malaysian demand to stop further irregular migration across the Thai border into Malaysia, a well-established route for migrants seeking employment. On May 17, Major General Sansern Kaewkamnerd of the military-backed Thai government argued that “Under Thai law, all illegal immigrants must be repatriated or sent to a third country.”
The letter of the law

Despite the Indonesian, Malaysian and Thai protestations that the Rohingya are illegal migrants fleeing poverty, all three countries have nonetheless acknowledged at least some legal responsibility to assist them.

It is widely acknowledged that the Rohingya are fleeing persecution at the hands of the Myanmarese state, which denies them access to citizenship and does not protect them from violence.

This places them squarely within the terms of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which defines a refugee as someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. Signatories agree to the fundamental principle of non-refoulement – meaning that no one shall expel or return (in French, refouler) a refugee against her or his will, in any manner whatsoever, to a territory where she or he fears threats to life or freedom.

It should come as no surprise that Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand have never ratified this Convention – but even so, they should not be able to hide behind this to abdicate their responsibilities, since all three operate a de facto situation of recognising the right to asylum.
Moral responsibility

While neither Malaysian nor Thai immigration law explicitly recognises the right to asylum or humanitarian protection, UNHCR – whose mandate is implementation of the 1951 Convention – has long worked in both of these countries, offering assistance to refugees including Rohingya. In 2014, approximately 100,000 Burmese refugees, including Rohingya, were registered in Malaysia. A further 80,000 were registered in UNHCR camps in Thailand along the border with Myanmar, and were processed for resettlement in third countries.

Loud and clear. EPA/Fazry Ismail

Even leaving aside their de facto recognition of the right to asylum, Malaysia and Thailand continue to profit from the labour of the hundreds of thousands of these migrants, including Rohingya. The so-called “smuggling or trafficking routes”, have long served the electronics, plantation and fishing industries in these two countries. Ironically, it was reportedly a renewed Thai effort to disrupt these routes that led to the current acute crisis.

Indonesia, on the other hand, explicitly recognised the right to asylum in a 1998 government decree, so even without ratifying the 1951 convention, the country’s implied legal responsibilities are clear. And the country has long acted as an island bulwark against the thousands of migrants heading in rickety boats for Australia, itself an infamous pioneer of naval “push-backs”.
Step up

While 8,000 migrants may now have had their lives saved from drowning, starvation or violence at sea, the crisis sparked by Thailand’s action against so-called “traffickers” is far from over. Given the current stances of the EU and the US on migrants arriving on their shores, the UNHCR is likely to struggle to find anyone in the “international community” willing to resettle the Rohingya.

In practice, that will leave these individuals languishing in camps and detention centres in which rights abuses are endemic. Migrants in Malaysia and Thailand who find themselves outside these camps and centres will be at constant risk of arrest, detention and deportation.

This has been the unsatisfactory status quo for too long. For decades now, the UNHCR has merely “processed” refugees for resettlement in third countries – and once again, in the face of one of the most serious migrant crises in the region for decades, that’s all it seems able to offer. Its support is to be warmly welcomed, but all those concerned need to take a stronger line.

It must be supported not only by other states, but by the multitude of other international organisations in the region which have a mandate to support migrants, including the International Labour Organisation and UN Women. While it doesn’t have a human rights mandate, the International Organisation for Migrationalso has traction with many governments in this region.

But ultimately, as things stand, too many states are being let off the hook. It is time for Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to ratify the 1951 Convention and come up with properly resourced national asylum systems. If they don’t, there is little hope for a real change – or for the thousands of people who remain stranded at sea.

Myanmar's Rakhine State denies persecution at root of migrant crisis


The head of the Myanmar state from which thousands of Rohingya Muslims are fleeing denied that persecution had prompted the exodus after the United States called on the country to deal with its root causes.

Many Rohingya have become prey to human traffickers on the journey south to Thailand, Malaysia and beyond as they flee what U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday were "the desperate conditions they face in Rakhine State".

Rakhine Chief Minister Maung Maung Ohn told Reuters after meeting United Nations officials on Friday: "I am disappointed by, and completely disagree and reject such unfounded allegations by the United States."

"This (migration) is human trafficking, not (due to) political or religious discrimination at all."

Blinken, who was visiting Myanmar on Thursday and Friday, told Myanmar's leaders they needed to address discrimination and violence against the minority Rohingya.

The majority of the more than 3,000 migrants who have landed on Malaysian and Indonesian shores this month were Rohingya Muslims, Blinken had told reporters.

The crisis flared in Southeast Asia after a Thai crackdown on human trafficking led criminals to abandon overloaded boats in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea rather than risk trying to smuggle or traffic them through preferred routes in Thailand.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR estimated on Friday that some 3,500 migrants are still stranded on boats with dwindling supplies, and repeated its appeal for the region's governments to rescue them.

Myanmar's navy discovered two Thai trafficking boats off the coast of Rakhine on Thursday, one carrying migrants and the other empty, the state government said in a statement on Friday.

"One is loaded with around 200 Bengali people," it said, using the government term for illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

"The people on the boat were all from Bangladesh," said Rakhine State government executive secretary Tin Maung Swe. "We will deport them."

Maung Maung Ohn said he would take a U.N. group to meet the migrants to show they were victims of trafficking, not persecution.

Myanmar has faced international criticism for not doing enough to help those at sea or stem the flow of migrants.

Migrant boats are often a mix of people from Bangladesh seeking to escape poverty at home as well as Rohingya.


Most of Myanmar's 1.1 million Rohingya are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions in the state. Almost 140,000 were displaced in deadly clashes with majority Buddhists in Rakhine in 2012. They are denied citizenship and have long complained of state-sanctioned discrimination.

Myanmar denies discriminating against the group and has said it is not the source of the problem. It does not recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic minority, and instead classifies the group as Bengalis. Most Rohingya reject the term and many have lived in Rakhine for generations.

Myanmar military chief General Min Aung Hlaing cast doubt on the origin of many of the refugees in comments carried in Myanmar's state media on Friday.

He "hinted that most victims are expected to assume themselves to be Rohingya from Myanmar in the hope of receiving assistance from UNHCR" at a meeting with Blinken on Thursday, the state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

"He stressed the need to investigate their country of origin rather than to accuse a country," the newspaper said.

Scores of Rohingya are paying off people smugglers and returning to the squalid camps they used to live in after being held for months on overcrowded ships off the coast of Myanmar.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday pledged assistance and ordered the navy to rescue thousands adrift at sea, and a Thai official said Myanmar had agreed to attend an emergency conference on the crisis on May 29.

Malaysia and Indonesia have said they would allow the thousands still at sea to come ashore temporarily, but Thailand has said it would not follow suit.

(Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun and Hnin Yadana Zaw in YANGON and Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in GENEVA; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Simon Webb; Editing byLouise Ireland)

A Rohingya migrant child, who recently arrived in Indonesia by boat, cries as a volunteer cuts his hair inside a temporary compound for refugees in Aceh Timur regency, Indonesia's Aceh Province May 22, 2015.


Community-building calls for humanitarian action

IT is surreal, is it not, that here we are talking about an Asean community, and yet are unable to address in concert the wave of Rohingya refugees arriving in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand from the Arakan coast of Myanmar, or are being turned back into the Andaman Sea to suffer an uncertain fate.

That changed a little when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak gave the humane instruction to the navy and maritime agency to not push them back and to in fact pick up those bobbing about in the sea.

(The last time Malaysia faced this kind of boat people crisis – involving the Vietnamese in the 1980s – then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad – threatened to shoot them; Foreign Minister King Ghaz attempted to explain this away by saying his prime minister said “shoo them” – but nobody was fooled).

Anyway, back to the present crisis. While there is some progress from the meeting in Putrajaya last Wednesday among the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, it is as nothing against the enormity of the humanitarian calamity and depth of the problem. Even then, Thailand was not able to agree NOT to push back to sea the refugees arriving in rickety boats, despite a cap on the numbers based on an estimation of those out at sea, and the caveat that those accepted onshore will be housed until resettlement in third countries within one year.

The elephant NOT in the room, of course, is Myanmar, from where most if not all of these refugees originate. The Malaysian foreign minister flew there on Thursday to engage Naypyidaw. Interestingly Myanmar which has been adamant about not attending any meeting to discuss the crisis originating from its shores, has relented a bit, largely because of international pressure to do so.

Hopefully some basic mechanism to stem the problem can be found. The deeper issue of the treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine state – in which everyone has been complicit, businessmen looking for opportunity since Myanmar’s opening up in 2011, right up to Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi – is however a long way from being addressed.

There are also the cruel and callous human traffickers taking advantage of people trying to escape persecution and poverty. They need to be tracked down in the countries from which they operate. There is finger pointing between Malaysia and Thailand on this, but let us not forget Bangladesh is also in the equation.

The problem is thus not an easy one to resolve. Even in high standard-setting Europe, there is an inability to handle the refugees arriving in Italy from North Africa. Navies are turning them back. There is no agreement on quotas among European Union (EU) member states for resettlement. There is therefore no cause for a European holier-than-thou attitude when inveighing against what is happening in South-East Asia.

However, there are some significant differences which make South-East Asia look bad in comparison. At least the EU members are talking to one another. Here in Asean, not only does Myanmar deny any responsibility for the Rohingya refugee problem, the rest of the member states are reluctant to tell it squarely and openly: look here mate that is absolute nonsense and let us get rid of this fiction.

What is it about Myanmar that Asean falls over itself to shield that recalcitrant state? Asean molly-coddled it when most of the rest of the world isolated the country. Indeed the regional grouping welcomed the country as a member state in 1997, saying contact not isolation will make the country’s leaders change. When change came in 2011, Asean celebrated with “I told you so”.

Last year Myanmar was awarded grand recognition when it became the chair of Asean. What has Myanmar given Asean in return? Isn’t it about time it did so?

That question should be the sub-theme of a regional conference that must be held soon to discuss the Rohingya sea people problem. It is not about reprimanding Myanmar, but about its taking responsibility to resolve the regional problem it has mainly caused – without even going into the R2P (responsibility to protect) obligation in respect of the Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, which must ultimately be resolved.

Less than a month ago, on 27th April, Asean issued the Kuala Lumpur declaration on a people-centric Asean at the end of its summit. How good is the declaration – and Asean – when even before the ink has dried there is this violation of people for all the world to see?

Asean is diminished. At precisely the time it is about to pronounce establishment of a community at the end of the year, its credibility is undermined. Can Asean peoples have a sense of belief in what their leaders grandly commemorate when lives so wretched are so openly lost without effective regional attention?

In this crisis, Thailand calls for a meeting, Myanmar refuses to attend, Malaysia calls for a meeting but only among states at the receiving end – no Myanmar – and Thailand is missing from the podium and flag at the press conference at the end of it. The Thai foreign minister goes off after telling his counterparts his country cannot commit to accepting the sea people even temporarily because of “domestic laws” but does not meet the press to say so. Then his Prime Minister says Thailand will not accept the refugees.

Next the Malaysian foreign minister flies to Myanmar (the mountain coming to Mohamad). Then Myanmar relents a bit, largely because of international pressure. There is effort, but at sixes and sevens.

In this crisis so far, only the decisions of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib and Indonesian President Jokowi can be recognised as positive (not to forget also that of the Turks, from almost the other side of the world, who have quietly sent a ship to our regional – Asean – waters, to do the humanitarian task of picking up those who are dying at sea).

If Asean wants to be called a community – and an allegedly people-oriented one at that – it should at least have a clear structure of meeting and decision-making when there is a crisis and lives are at stake. It has many somnambulistic bodies and contradiction-in-terms task forces which never swing into action in a timely manner because clear decisions are never made.

It is not clear where the decision-making lies. It is the Asean way to leave it vague. That does not work in a crisis. As Asean chair, Malaysia should have the leaders address this issue of acting in a crisis, instead of just acting in well-choreographed events and summits.

Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB Asean Research Institute.

Refugees and our meaningless celebration of hijrah

Abdar Rahman Koya works for The Malaysian Insider. He considers himself to have all the qualities of an ordinary Malaysian, a practising Muslim, and an incorrigible cynic.

Published: 23 May 2015

So it took several days, and probably several funerals at sea, before Asean leaders realised the value of human lives.

While the decision to rescue thousands of Rohingya refugees starving in their rickety boats in the middle of the ocean is welcome, the whole affair brings to question so-called Asian values, once trumpeted by leaders in this region, including the late Lee Kuan Yew, who is now venerated almost to Orwellian proportions as the saint of Singapore.

It is also interesting to note that until the Najib government finally decided to save human lives, all Islamic rhetoric coming from suspicious groups dressed in Islamic attire was mute. But when they did protest, it was not helpful at all, one group even reinforcing the hate between Rohingya and other Myanmarese with a call on Malaysia to expel all workers from Myanmar.

The undeniable fact is that among the first to call for action to protect the hapless men, women and children, all Muslims, were those groups which the authorities have demonised, using such misunderstood terms as pluralist, secularist, liberal and anti-Islam.

Here were thousands of people risking their lives sailing for hundreds of miles, thinking that this Muslim government, which has made so much noise about the plight of the Palestinians and other persecuted Muslims at the other end of the world, would accept them, at least to have a temporary refuge, so that mothers could breastfeed their infants and toddlers could sleep in peace.

Their expectations were not unrealistic. After all, about two decades ago, this country flew in thousands of blue-eyed, silver-haired Muslims, gave them refuge, scholarships, jobs, even husbands and wives, many of whom ended up as citizens, others preferring Western countries. And they didn’t even have to be practising Muslims. They were nominal, the majority of them hardly able to read the Quran or perform Islamic rituals.

Whether or not the same humanitarian zeal was extended to the Rohingya without hesitation is anybody’s guess.

It was shameful that the leaders actually had to discuss it before they did what any human beings would do when hungry women and children cry for help at their doorstep.

Contrast this with the Libyan refugee crisis faced by Italian authorities. No one waited for top officials to meet before deciding to rescue thousands of refugees who had ventured out into the sea.

Oh, but we must be careful of setting a precedence. We cannot open the floodgates, so goes the clich├ęd argument to push them back to sea. Such false pragmatism has no place when it comes to saving innocent lives, and certainly would not have been shown had the babies crying in the middle of the ocean been their nephews and nieces.

The fact that people from Libya, a victim of European colonial brutality, would confidently seek better lives from their former oppressors shows how much better and more civilised Western countries are about protecting refugees.

The fact that some of their governments are engaged in launching deadly drones does not negate the fact that they place more value on displaced and stateless people when they come crying for help, to live a life with dignity away from war and poverty.

Malaysians in general still suffer from insecurity over a group of people from an underdeveloped country coming in to build their lives here.

The argument against recognising and helping refugees can be summed up like this: our humanitarian gesture could set a bad precedent and undermine the country’s sovereignty. It is the same argument we hear from Malaysians who are so used to treating non-tourist, non-Caucasian and non-Arab foreigners as second class.

Crimes, street begging and social ills are some of the key words used, and politicians from both sides of the divide feed into such xenophobia, no matter how loud the noise they make about domestic human rights. 

Only recently, I stumbled upon one such call from a little known PKR vice-president, Darell Leiking, who blasted his email complete with pictures to all media, calling for action against some Pakistani-looking foreigners, all because they were running sundry shops in his constituency!

We have also heard overzealous calls to expel the thousands of foreigners who have been given citizenship in Sabah using questionable methods. Never mind that their locally born Malaysian children had no role in this illegal exercise, or that they would be forced to leave their “tanah tumpah darah” and become orphans if their parents were expelled, all in the name of sovereignty.

It is like sending children born out of wedlock to the forests because their parents committed adultery and their birth in this world did not follow “proper procedures”.

As a nation claiming to have developed status in five years’ time, this anti-refugee sentiment is shameful. As a nation governed by Muslims and backed by some of the loudest Islamic rhetoric in the Muslim world, it is detestable.

For 15 years, the United Nations has been celebrating June 20 every year as World Refugees Day.

But for 1,500 years, Muslims have unknowingly been honouring refugees, even recognising the act of migration by a group of early Muslims, so much so that it has become the basis of the Islamic calendar.

Prophet Muhammad was probably the most prominent Muslim refugee. At Islam’s infancy, a group of Muslims who were persecuted by the elites of Mecca fled to Abyssinia and sought refuge with a Christian king called Negus, whose kindness is narrated in every story about Muhammad’s prophethood.

Some years later, Muhammad himself set out to venture from his birthplace of Mecca, with hundreds of others, secretly departing to seek refuge in a land faraway, Medina. This was called hijrah, or emigration, and the incident is commemorated till this day on the Islamic new year, or Awal Muharram.

There is a lesson in both stories. In the first, giving protection to refugees transcends religion and race. Here is a Christian king giving refuge to a set of Muslims who are out to propagate a religion that does not believe in his version of Jesus.

In the second, God shows us that no nation is superior. The more “refined” Medinans readily accepted the Meccans, whose character and physical complexion reflected the scorching hot Meccan climate.

Yet, the Medinans offered to share their crops and land and even divorced wives for the Meccans to marry, the highest act of generosity in pre-Islamic Arabia.

The lessons from Negus and the Medinans, which we repeat every year to our children whenever we celebrate Awal Muharram, are lost in wasteful ceremonies.

Every year, we dish out the “Maal Hijrah Award” to individuals for their contribution to society. Not one of these has gone to the men and women who championed the refugees, the same people who engineered the hijrah.

Consider, for example, the treatment meted out to the late Irene Fernandez, who risked her freedom to fight for the rights of migrants and refugees. She was instead prosecuted, indeed persecuted with the longest court trial. Her death didn’t get even a line of condolence from the same people lecturing every year about the hijrah.

Migration and migrants will continue to shape the world, and Malaysia is no exception. But many among us take for granted that Malaysia’s demographical evolution has been completed, never mind the fact that all around the world, some of the most established countries continue to evolve demographically, accepting alien cultures and pushing race to irrelevance, forever changing their definition of national identity and nationhood.

We must stop thinking that only our grandparents who ventured from mainland China, the Arabian peninsula, Thailand, Indonesia and the Indian subcontinent deserved to be given citizenship.

Indeed, it is time Malaysians stop thinking that their so-called social fabric is threatened by emigrants who come here with their culture and enterprise. Because human populations will continue to evolve, and so must we. – May 23, 2015.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

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Police to ensure refugees don’t threaten national security

Police were extra alert during refugee documentation process and have enhanced security patrols in Malaysian waters.

IPOH: Police are being more vigilant to ensure that the influx of 7,000 Rohingya refugees does not threaten national security, said Inspector-General of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar.

He said this was imperative as the force did not have any records on the refugees.

“The police are extra alert during the documentation process (of the refugees) with the Immigration Department to make sure the nation’s security will not be affected,” he told a press conference after attending an assembly of civilian staff with the police here today.

Also present were Crime Prevention and Community Policing Department director Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani, Perak Police chief Osman Salleh and Cuepacs president, Azih Muda.

Khalid said police were also enhancing security patrols in Malaysian waters in collaboration with the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and the Royal Malaysian Navy in light of the influx of refugees from the Indian sub-continent and Myanmar.

Khalid also said the location for temporary shelters to accommodate the refugees had yet to be determined.

“We are still waiting, I think the National Security Council will hold a meeting with the relevant agencies to discuss a suitable location.

“I think the location could be in the northern region as it will be easy to move the refugees. Probably the government can consider Penang in facilitating the agencies to manage the shelters,” he said.

In KOTA SAMARAHAN, Immigration Department director-general Mustafa Ibrahim said the department was ready to place Rohingya refugees at its detention depot in Belantik, Sik, Kedah if instructed to do so by the government.

However, he said so far, there had been no instruction to place these refugees either in detention depots or other temporary placement centres.

Speaking to reporters after presenting Certificates of Excellence to 101 Immigration Department personnel in Sarawak here today, Mustafa said the department would assist in providing human resources as well as placement in the depots as well as documentation.

In KLANG, Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM) vice-president, Mohamad Raimi Ab Rahim proposed that Asean revise its policy of non-interference as a solution to the Rohingya migrant crisis.

He said Malaysia and other Asean nations must intervene in the Rohingya issue as well as pressure the Myanmar government to recognise their rights and give them citizenship.

He was speaking to reporters after a ceremony to hand over food and cash aid from the Muslim Charity United Kingdom (UK) to about 150 ethnic Rohingya families at the Rohingya Education Centre here today.


Malaysia : Only half of 7000 refugees need temporary shelter, UNHCR rep says

Richard Towie speaks during the GMM-Proham roundtable discussion ‘The Asean Humanitarian Crisis in the Seas of Southeast Asia: What are the Durable Solutions?’ in Kuala Lumpur today. — Picture by Choo Choy MayKUALA LUMPUR, May 22 — In an attempt to allay fears that temporarily housing refugees would deplete Malaysia’s resources, the United Nations’ (UN) refugee agency said today that only half of the 7,000 refugees needed shelter.

Richard Towle, a representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said about half of the estimated 7,000 people abandoned by human traffickers are Bangladeshis who were tricked into getting on boats to leave their homes; leaving only the remaining half in need of refugee status protection.

“We are not talking about a tidal wave of people that is going to swamp the resources of any particular country in the region.

“It is not a volume of people that will fundamentally alter the demographics of the country like we’ve seen from Syria into Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey today.

“Those volumes are truly altering at an existentialist way, the composition, features and status of those particular societies and those countries put out their hands wilfully to accept millions of people without complaint,” he said during the GMM-Proham roundtable discussion “The Asean Humanitarian Crisis in the Seas of Southeast Asia: What are the Durable Solutions?” at the GMM office here.

Towle said that although signing the refugee convention can be a symbol, much like a gold star for a chief but he said he preferred that Malaysia did not sign and do the right thing according to its ability.

He stressed the importance of treating refugees and migrants as victims instead of illegal immigrants.

There is also a greater need to clamp down on the human traffickers but this will require high cooperation among the law enforcement in the region.

Of the 150,000 refugees in Malaysia, 93 per cent are from Myanmar and there are probably up to another 40,000 Rohingyas here that are not registered with the UNHCR.

“If you allow people who are going to be here anyway, give them the right to work, you will flush them out of grey economy and they will be more dignified contributors to Malaysia,” Towle said.

So far, about 100 “boat people” have reached Langkawi and are currently being processed by the government.

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Malaysia : In Penang, a display of solidary with refugees

A group of Penang non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and members of the public gathered at Esplanade in George Town this evening to show solidarity for survivors of human trafficking in Malaysia.

There was a candle light vigil, youth lying on the grass covered with sheets playing dead to highlight the suffering and deaths of refugees, song performances and speeches by various leaders highlighting the plight of the oppressed and discriminated foreigners.

James Lochhead of Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign said they stood in solidarity with newly-arrived refugees in Malaysia and mourn those who had lost their lives over the years due to abuse and trafficking while they searched for refuge.

"We never want the deaths and trauma to be repeated. The real criminals are the unscrupulous governments and criminal syndicates and a world dominated by big business that put profit far above people.

"Let us call governments and businesses to account, where oppression and exploitation are to be found... let us protect the vulnerable and hunt down and bring to justice human traffickers, people smugglers, criminal syndicates and modern day slavers.

"Let us say to the Myanmar government that it has breached its duties to its citizens and to humanity... Let us say not on our watch and stop the horrors of human trafficking and exploitation of the people," he said to the crowd of more than 30 people.

Last week, thousands of refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh tried to enter Malaysia illegally by sea. Some were caught and detained by the Malaysian immigration while others were pushed back.

Participants at the vigil in Esplanade, George Town, pretending to be Rohingya who died while seeking asylum abroad. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Hasnoor Hussain, May 22, 2015.After criticism and pressure, as well as further deliberation with its neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to house the refugees for a year until the people were resettled by the international community.

Aliran, Citizens International, Persatuan Sahabat Prihatin Pulau Pinang, Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign and Suaram Penang appealed to all parties at all levels, including the state and federal authorities, to treat all the survivors, including those who have newly arrived with respect and humanity.

"As victims of political circumstances, who are fleeing to save their lives and those of their children by seeking the safety of Malaysian shores, they should be met with basic humanitarian principles of refuge and protection.

"Many of those coming off the boats and swimming ashore are Rohingya asylum seekers from Rakhine, Myanmar, who had faced extreme violence and persecution there. 

"Many will have suffered at the hands of human traffickers and other criminals as well. They should not be treated or labelled illegal immigrants or wrongdoers, as they have no choice but to try and find safety until there is lasting peace, without persecution or discrimination, in their homeland," the group said in a joint statement.

The groups also welcomed the initiative taken by the Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian governments to discuss with Myanmar towards resolving the conflict in Rakhine and to tackle the problem of human trafficking and people smuggling.

They said a lasting peaceful solution to the present conflict was crucial for the elimination of the mass exodus of people, which had led to human trafficking over the years.

Participants hold placards advocating for Rohingya refugees. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Hasnoor Hussain, May 22, 2015.Solving the problem would also contribute to peace and stability in the region, they said.

"An Asean solution to eliminate human trafficking is urgently needed, to be dealt together with the international community."

With Malaysia being the present chair of Asean and a non-permanent member of the United Nations (UN) Security Council, the group said Putrajaya must take the lead in confronting the issues in Myanmar and in the region which have given rise to the present situation.

The group also renewed calls for Putrajaya to ratify the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol and recognise the right of people to seek asylum enshrined in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. – May 22, 2015.

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Burma military chief claims refugees pretending to be Rohingya to get aid

Min Aung Hlaing says many of the migrants arriving by boat in Malaysia and Indonesia have fled neighbouring Bangladesh and are not Rohingya Muslims


A Rohingya woman and a child from Burma are photographed during identification procedures at a newly set up confinement area in Aceh province in Indonesia after hundreds of migrants from Burma and Bangladesh were rescued by Indonesian fishermen off the waters of the province on 20 May. Photograph: Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images

Burma’s military commander-in-chief said some “boat people” landing in Malaysia and Indonesia this month are likely pretending to be Rohingya Muslims to receive UN aid and that many had fled neighbouring Bangladesh, state media reported on Friday.

The remarks are sure to spark concern after the United States lambasted Burma this week for failing to address the cause of the crisis, which observers say stems from the country’s refusal to recognise the Rohingya, an ethnic minority group living in western Burma, as citizens.

Most of the 1.1 million Rohingya are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions. Almost 140,000 were displaced in deadly clashes with Buddhists in the western state of Rakhine in 2012.

UN agencies have urged regional governments to protect thousands of migrants stranded on boats in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman sea with dwindling supplies.

Hundreds of migrants, including Rohingya from Burma and Bangladeshis fleeing persecution and poverty at home, have been pushed back out to sea by Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia this month. Many now face sickness and possible starvation.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing “hinted that most victims are expected to assume themselves to be Rohingya from Myanmar in the hope of receiving assistance from UNHCR” during a meeting with the US deputy secretary of state, Antony Blinken, on Thursday, the state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

He cited reports that the “boat victims” were from Bangladesh.

“He stressed the need to investigate their country of origin rather than to accuse a country,” the newspaper reported.

Blinken had stressed the need for Burma to address the causes of the migration, “including the racially and religiously motivated discrimination and violence“.

Many Rohingya have long complained of state-sanctioned discrimination in Burma and are denied citizenship. Burma denies discriminating against the group and has said it is not the source of the problem.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday pledged assistance and ordered the navy to rescue thousands adrift at sea, and a Thai official said Myanmar had agreed to attend an emergency conference on the crisis.

Malaysia and Indonesia have also said they would let as many as 7,000 migrants on the seas now to come ashore temporarily, but no more.

Both countries have also said that temporary shelters would be set up to house the migrants, but Thailand, a traditional transit point for those trying to reach Malaysia for work, said it would not follow suit.

Myanmar Navy Rescues More Than 200 Boat People


Myanmar will house more than 200 boat people its navy rescued off its shores on Friday in a village in the western part of the country, as authorities work to determine the refugees’ nationalities, according to local officials.

The navy found two boats, one with passengers and another nearly empty but containing some food, said Shwe Than, a police officer in Rakhine state where the refuges are being kept.

“So far, most of the ones we have checked are from Bangladesh,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “They said the Bangladeshi navy found them and tried to arrest them. They entered Myanmar’s sea territory while they were running to avoid arrest by the Bangladeshi navy.”

The rescued refugees were taken to an Islamic school in Maungdaw district where immigration officials and border police are determining their status, he said, adding that human traffickers planned to send the migrants to Malaysia.

The refugees—mostly men in their 20s and 30s who appeared weak—said they had been at sea for two months with limited food as they were headed to Malaysia to find work, Shwe Than said, adding that some of them did not speak Burmese.

“We still need to check where they are exactly from,” he said. “Whenever we have found several boats in this area during the last few years, they all have been from Bangladesh.”

In addition to the more than 200 refugees, 17 boat hands were on board along with two others who appeared to be human traffickers, Shwe Than said. It was not clear what authorities had done with those 19 people.

Maung Maung Ohn, chief minister of Rakhine state and Vjay Nambiar, United Nations Secretary General's special adviser on Myanmar, will visit the boat people on Saturday, he said.

The Rakhine state government has provided the refugees with 100 boxes of noodles and 50 bags of rice and already arranged places for them in refugee camps, Maung Maung Ohn told RFA.

“We are collaborating with the United Nations and international NGOs to assist them,” he said, adding that only four or five of the refugees appeared to be from Rakhine state, where most of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya live.

Of the Bangladeshis among the refugees, he said: “We have to send them back to their country. We will work on it together with the government of their own country."

‘Pretending to be Rohingya’

The rescue of the boat people came following a comment by Myanmar’s military chief General Min Aung Hlaing that some of the boat people who recently landed in Malaysia and Indonesia were pretending to be Rohingya so they could get U.N. aid.

It also came a day after a top U.S. diplomat had urged President Thein Sein to stem the crisis by helping the thousands of persecuted Rohingya who have fled Rakhine state and are still stuck at sea.

Myanmar’s government refers to the 1.1 million Rohingya who live there as “Bengali” because it views them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although many have lived in the country for generations.

The U.N. estimates that 130,000 ethnic Rohingya have fled Myanmar by sea since a violent and deadly clash with majority Buddhists in mid-2012. Others, who were displaced by the violence, remain housed in camps in Myanmar.

Those who have fled by sea have fell victim to human trafficking in the Bay of the Bengal after paying smugglers to transport them to other countries, only to be intercepted by traffickers who have held them captive and demanded ransom for their continued passage.

“We don’t accept what other countries have accused us of such as that we have discriminated against and ignored Muslim refugees in our country,” Maung Maung Ohn said. “Some even have said we are committing genocide.

“We have even helped refugees from other countries, and we are doing our best for them. I have brought all international representatives to Muslim camps in Rakhine state to show them how we have been taking care of these refugees."

Reported by San Maw Aung and Zin Mar Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated b y Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Malaysia says it will turn away migrants stranded at sea unless boats are sinking

In the last three years, attacks by Buddhist mobs have left 280 people dead and forced 140,000 others from their homes. They now live under apartheid-like conditions in crowded camps just outside the Rakhine state capital, Sittwe.

A crisis involving boatloads of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants stranded at sea has deepened as Malaysia said it would turn away any more of the vessels unless they were sinking.

The waters around Malaysia’s Langkawi island – where several crowded, wooden vessels have landed in recent days carrying more than 1,000 men, women and children – would be patrolled 24 hours a day by eight ships, said Tan Kok Kwee, first admiral of Malaysia’s maritime enforcement agency.

“We won’t let any foreign boats come in,” Tan said on Tuesday. If the boats are sinking, they would rescue them, but if the boat are found to be seaworthy, the agency will provide “provisions and send them away”, he said.

Fears up to 6,000 asylum seekers are trapped at sea off south-east Asia

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South-east Asia is in the grips of a spiralling humanitarian crisis as boats packed with Rohingya and Bangladeshis are being washed ashore, some after being stranded at sea for more than two months. 

As many as 6,000 asylum seekers are feared to be trapped at sea in crowded, wooden boats, and activists warn of potentially dangerous conditions as food and clean water runs low.

The crisis appears to have been triggered by a regional crackdown on human traffickers, who have refused to take people to shore. It reached a tipping point this weekend, when some captains and smugglers abandoned their ships, leaving migrants to fend for themselves.

One boat sent out a distress signal, with migrants saying they had been without food and water for three days, according to Chris Lewa, director of the nonprofit Arakan Project, who spoke by phone to people on the boat.

“They asked to be urgently rescued,” she said, adding there were an estimated 350 people on board, and that they had no fuel.

In the last three days, the 1,158 people landed on Langkawi island, according to Malaysian authorities, and 600 others in Indonesia’s westernmost province of Aceh. With thousands more believed to be trapped in vessels at sea, that number is expected to climb, said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division. Malaysia’s announcement comes a day after Indonesia also turned back a ship, giving those on board rice, noodles, water and directions to go to Malaysia.

The migrants aboard the boat that sent a distress signal described an approaching white vessel with flashing lights while she was on the phone, Lewa said. One minute they were cheering because they thought they were about to get help, she said, and the next they were screaming as the boat moved away.

“I can hear the children crying, I can hear them crying,” she said.

Lewa has tracked about 6,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis who have boarded large and small trafficking boats in the region in recent months, but have yet to disembark. Based on her information, she believes the migrants and the boats are still in the Malacca strait and nearby international waters.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the US, Australia and other governments and international organisations, meanwhile, have held a string of emergency meetings to discuss possible next steps.

They are worried about deaths, but also the looming refugee problem. In the past, most countries have been unwilling to accept Rohingya, a Muslim minority fromBurma who are effectively stateless. They worry that by opening their doors to a few, they will be unable to stem the flood of poor, uneducated migrants.

Malaysia’s home ministry said in a statement that of the 1,158 people who landed on Sunday on Langkawi island, 486 were Burmese citizens and 672 were Bangladeshis. There were 993 men, 104 women and 61 children.

A government doctor said many survivors were being treated for diarrhea, abdominal pains, dehydration and urination problems.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations – a regional group that brings together all of the main stakeholders, from Burma and Thailand to Indonesia and Malaysia– has a strict stance of non-interference in member affairs.

At annual Asean meetings – the most recent, ironically, on Langkawi – Burma has blocked all discussion about its 1.3 million Rohingya, insisting they are illegal settlers from Bangladesh even though many of their families arrived generations ago.

For most part, member countries have agreed to leave it at that.

Labeled by the UN one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, the Rohingya have for decades suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination in the Buddhist-majority Burma, where they have limited access to education and adequate healthcare.

Malaysia will not sign UN convention on refugees, says minister

KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 — Malaysia does not intend to become a signatory to a United Nations convention on refugees and migrant rights as the country has its hands full dealing with “problems” brought by refugees here, a minister said today.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim told Parliament that Malaysia has been lenient all this while by allowing refugees to eke out a living, but claimed that the situation has gone out of hand.

“Too many problems brought by them (refugees) in Cameron Highlands and Perlis especially because of their rough attitude,” Shahidan said during question time in response to a supplementary question by Dr Mansor Abdul Rahman (BN-Sik).

“On humanitarian grounds, we let them run businesses in pasar malams (night markets), but they are giving problems to locals and we now cannot handle this type of people as our local businesses are also feeling threatened by them.

“Now the most popular restaurant is Thai restaurants,” he added.

Owing to the situation, Shahidan said Putrajaya will not sign the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967).

Shahidan said that he has also asked the UN if the organisation intends to stop giving out refugee identification cards.

“Now they are no longer refugees but economic migrants,” he added.

To another supplementary question earlier by Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud (PAS-Kota Raja), who had asked if the government would consider signing the two conventions which would allow migrants and refugees to find jobs, Shahidan said the government’s bigger concern is to address the growing number of unemployed locals.

“In my view, the bigger issue that has to be addressed is how to give jobs to locals who are jobless. Let outsiders be dealt with accordingly.”

He added that Malaysia does not intend to become a signatory to the said conventions as the government would be unable to execute its necessary duty pertaining to refugee issues.

“If we become a signatory, the implication is that we will encourage more foreign workers to come in as refugees and asylum seekers and this will increase the number of illegal immigrants, foreign labourers and refugees.

“Malaysia will also become a transit for refugees because of our strategic geographical position,” he said, adding that this will also give rise to socio-economic problems.

Shahidan said that at present, there are 151,838 refugees and asylum seekers in the country.- See more at:

UNHCR: No refugee status for those who commit crimes

PETALING JAYA — The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) insists that asylum-seekers in Malaysia are screened thoroughly before they are granted the status. 

The UNHCR Kuala Lumpur spokesman Yante Ismail said a detailed interview and investigation would be carried out on the applicant to determine a person’s eligibility for refugee status. 

“The asylum (application) process assesses whether a person is in need of protection and also when required, whether their conduct would exclude them from protection,” she said. 

“Because of the thoroughness that is required, and for high profile and complicated cases, a longer time is needed to process an individual.”

Concern over who were getting the refugee status was raised after it was reported last week that 15 out of 17 Myanmar men detained to assist police investigations into the brutal murders in Penang are UNHCR cardholders who have been resident in Malaysia for up to 14 years. 

Yante said refugee protection was not extended to individuals who have committed serious crimes or acts contrary to the purposes of the United Nations. 

“Given the seriousness of these issues, a close and full examination of all facts would need to be undertaken.”  

She said because investigations were on-going, the commission was unable to comment on the arrests of the Myanmar detainees, including those who have UNCHR cards. 

“If there are allegations of crimes committed in Malaysia by refugees, UNHCR expects that they be given full due process under the law like any individual,” she said. 

“All refugees and asylum-seekers must respect the national laws of the countries in which they seek asylum in.”

Yante said UNHCR has contacted the Malaysian authorities to offer its assistance. 

From March until November, the country has seen an influx of about 6,000 refugees from Myanmar.

As of November,139,200 Myanmar refugees were registered with UNHCR, with 150,460 asylum-seekers from other countries in Malaysia. 

The Myanmar refugees comprise of 50,620 Chins, 40,070 Rohingyas, 12,160 Myanmar Muslims, 7,440 Rakhines and Arakaneses, and other ethnicities.

The other 11,260 refugees from other countries include 4,200 Sri Lankans, 1,200 Pakistanis, 1,120 Somalis, 970 Syrians, 860 Iraqis, 580 Iranians, 450 Palestinians, 390 Afghans, 360 Yemenis and 140 Sudanese.

In March, the total number of Myanmar refugees was 133,070 and the overall total of refugees in Malaysia from other countries was 143,435. 

The UNHCR believed there were about 35,000 unregistered asylum-seekers in the country and UNHCR is progressively working to register them.

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