Sunday, August 21, 2016

138 Myanmar detainees in Malaysia set to return home

Kuala Lumpur, Aug 7 (IANS) The first batch of 138 Myanmar nationals detained in Malaysia is set to return home on Monday, official sources said on Sunday.

The detainees, who have been issued Certificate of Identity, under the arrangement with the Kanbawza's Brighter Future Myanmar Foundation will return to Myanmar on a Myanmar International flight from Kuala Lumpur, Myanmar's Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.

At present, 2,294 Myanmarese nationals are detained in 11 camps in Malayasia, the sources added.

In March 2015, a Myanmarese Navy warship carried back 102 illegal Myanmarese immigrants from Malaysia who were kept at detention camps.

More than 400,000 Myanmar immigrants are reportedly working in Malaysia, of whom about 300,000 are legal entrants, while about 40,000 are illegal. The rest are involved in various processes for refugee status.

Myanmar authorities are cooperating with Malaysian officials to protect their citizens working in the Southeast Asian country as they are often targeted victims of violence and murder there.

In September 2013, Myanmar started recalling its citizens detained in Malaysia for working illegally there.

In Malaysia, 128,800 people effectively slaves, survey finds

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 11 — Over 128,000 workers in Malaysia are employed in slave-like conditions and treated like livestock, according to the Global Slavery Index 2016.

The survey ranked Malaysia 50th out of 167 countries measured, with nearly a half per cent of the over 30 million population working in exploitative conditions described as “modern slavery”.

“[Modern] slavery refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception, with treatment akin to a farm animal.

“For example, their passport might be taken away if they are in a foreign country, they may experience or be threatened with violence or their family might be threatened,” said the Walk Free Foundation that commissioned the report.

In the region, Malaysia was behind Singapore (130th, 9,200 people) in the number of workers considered to be modern day slaves, but ahead of Vietnam (47th, 139,300), the Philippines (19th, 401,000), Thailand (16th, 425,000) and Indonesia (10th, 736,100) The country with the most enslaved workers was India, with over 18 million, followed by China (3.3 million) and Pakistan (2.1 million). Luxembourg has the fewest at 100.

Over 45 million people across the 167 countries were in modern slavery.

Malaysia was also rated “CCC” in terms of government action to modern-day slavery, which is categorised as “limited response” as well as “limited support” for victims. The 10-tier ranking ranges from “AAA”, the best, to D, the worst.

According to the report, the majority of modern-day slaves in Malaysia — as with other richer Asian countries — were women and young girls who migrated work as domestic helpers.

“Inhumane treatment of domestic workers including starvation and sexual abuse was reported in 2015, as well as indicators of forced labour including extortionate recruitment fees, confinement to the place of employment, excessive unpaid overtime, withholding of wages and confiscation of identity documents,” the report said.

The spotlight fell on human smuggling in Malaysia and the surrounding region during a refugee crisis last year, when an estimated 6,000 to 20,000 migrants fleeing ethnic persecution in Myanmar and poverty in Bangladesh were left adrift in the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca.

In what was dubbed a massive humanitarian disaster by the United Nations, the boat people were believed abandoned by their traffickers with little food or water.

Malaysia was previously ranked in the lowest Tier 3 of the US annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, but was upgraded to its current Tier 2 “watch list” despite the discovery of 139 graves and 28 human trafficking camps at Wang Kelian, Perlis, along the Thai border.

Lawmakers in both countries expressed suspicion at the time that Malaysia’s upgrade was to facilitate its participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership; the Tier 3 status would have prevented the US from entering a trade deal with Malaysia.

Myanmar begins repatriation of 2,000 migrants from Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 10 ― Beginning this week, the Myanmar government will be beginning the process of taking home some 2,000 of its people who have been detained for months in Malaysia, Myanmar Times reported today.

The whole process could take up to a month with at least 10 chartered flights, each carrying 130 migrants on board, according to the report.

“We have plans go through this repatriation process more than 10 times, chartering flights with more than 130 on board each time,” Myanmar’s labour and immigration ministry permanent secretary U Myo Aung was quoted saying.

Migrant workers from Myanmar were detained by Malaysian authorities, reportedly for various offences, including expiration of their visas.

However, the newspaper also reported criticisms against the Myanmar embassy for allegedly taking too long to approve visa extensions for the migrant workers, which led to their detention by authorities here. As such, they were unable to return even after their citizenship had been confirmed.

The Myanmar official was also reported saying its government planned to help the workers secure jobs after repatriation, though it was unclear if it would be in Myanmar or elsewhere.

The repatriation process is being funded by private donors such as MAI Airlines and KBZ Brighter Future Myanmar Foundation.

The process was supposed to start in July, but was cancelled due to lack of funding.

Last year, tens of thousands of Myanmar and Bangladesh nationals were left stranded at sea by human traffickers in Southeast Asian waters. More than 1,000 of them landed in Malaysia’s northwestern island of Langkawi.

The subsequent investigation into the human trafficking syndicate led to discovery of 139 sites mass graves at the north of Malaysia, near the Thailand border, where Myanmar refugees, mostly from the minority Muslim Rohingya community, were believed to have been held

Let refugees work legally — Lee Hwok Aun

The Rio 2016 Olympics is making waves for reasons glorious and notorious, but the carnival of sport has made one unambiguously positive statement with the first ever inclusion of a team of refugees. The athletic participation of nationally displaced peoples, alongside those flag-bearing for their homelands, serves timely notice to Malaysia to consider ways that refugees can participate more broadly in our economy and society. In particular, we should open up channels for refugees to work formally and legally. 

Refugees in Malaysia are officially prohibited from working, but circumstances force them to take up jobs informally, enduring risk and hardship just to earn income and support their families. The system also puts compassionate employers who employ them, or want to hire, in a bind.

Why should we legalise work for refugees? First and foremost, refugees are fellow human beings, worthy of the same dignity and deserving of basic needs. They have fled persecution, oppression, forced displacement, war, and other horrors, suffering unimaginable violations of human rights, equality and dignity. They are among the most vulnerable people in the world; it is incumbent on humanity to show compassion and extend practical assistance. Moreover, if prohibited from working formally and deprived of income, refugees will be driven to informal work, and possibly illegal, undesirable activities. 

Permitting refugees to work also stands to deliver benefits to Malaysia’s economy and society. Refugee workers often take up jobs than locals shun, and in being productively employed they contribute to national income. They also tend to migrate with families and are thus likely to a substantial share of their income in the local economy. Refugees can bring skills and knowledge, add diversity, and with their relatively younger age profile, contribute a demographic dividend – they can continue to be productive for many years and across generations. 

Of course, some concerns arise on the cost side – but the evidence indicates that refugee receiving countries by and large can cope. Will local workers get displaced? Evidence from the OECD countries, which have relatively more experience in extending work access to refugees, shows that such effects are usually modest in amount. Refugees’ usage of public services are also not overly burdensome; the OECD average is 0.19 per cent of GDP. In any case, public expenditures should also not be counted solely as costs. Education and health services help cultivate a more capable and dynamic refugee population. 

There is vast room for improvement in the state of refugees here. Such communities are already in Malaysia, and the majority are working informally because otherwise they cannot feed their families. The total number of refugees registered with the UNHCR is roughly 151,000. Of these, about 124,000 are of working age (16-59 years). Approximately three quarters of refugee households have at least one person working or looking for work – all in informal work arrangements with no legal protection. They are located throughout Peninsular Malaysia, but concentrated in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor (just over 60 per cent of total).

Not surprisingly, a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) survey of refugees in Malaysia found them in dire states: 64 per cent find their economic conditions have worsened since arriving in Malaysia, 72 per cent believe lack of legal status is an impediment to higher income employment, while 42 per cent of households bear debt burdens. The Rohingyas and people of other Myanmar origin groups, who constitute the vast majority of refugees, are more likely to work in dangerous, strenuous and unhealthy environments. At the same time, they widely declare a willingness to work, including in plantations.

These conditions make for a compelling case that refugees should be provided the means to formal employment, on humanitarian and national interest grounds. Refugees, already residing in Malaysia, present an able and willing workforce that can work more gainfully and productively if granted formal employment permits, and that help alleviate our persisting labour shortage problems.

Most refugees are already working, performing jobs too onerous, elementary and unattractive to Malaysians. Even if more join the workforce, the impact will be minimal. Working refugees constitute less than one percent of total employed persons in Peninsular Malaysia, and if those who are not working enter the labour force, their number touches only 3 per cent of jobs advertised on, the Ministry of Human Resource’s employment portal. 

In terms of public provisions, the scale is similarly negligible. Malaysia does not incur expenses refugee resettlement or welfare payments. Indeed, the bulk of refugee-related budget is spent on placing them in detention facilities.

The Olympics come and go, the Rio torch will be extinguished, but the plight of refugees burns on.

All in all, there are multiple benefits and minimal costs to formally employing refugees in Malaysia. In line with the policy of hiring migrant workers who are already here and reducing the incidence of undocumented labour, it is only right, proper and opportune to channel more national attention and effort into actionable solutions for refugees.

* Lee Hwok Aun is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Development Studies, University of Malaya.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

Malaysia working with UNHCR on more secure refugee cards

Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced that the new cards have been issued since June under the collaboration between the Malaysian government and UNHCR. — file picturePUTRAJAYA, Aug 18 ― The Malaysian government is collaborating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to issue new refugee identification cards with high security features, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said today.

Zahid, who is also home minister, announced that the new cards have been issued since June under the collaboration between the Malaysian government and UNHCR.

“The issuance of the card will go through tight screening steps. Therefore, the process of replacing the old UNHCR cards will take a bit of time.

“This move is intended to tackle the problem of the issuance of fake UNHCR cards,” he said in a statement today after chairing a meeting on UNHCR-related issues.

Zahid also said a joint task force will be formed in which the UNHCR and Malaysia will work together to register and issue the new cards, but said the process of determining refugee status remains fully under the organisation based on the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol.

The joint task force comprised senior officers from the Home Ministry, the National Security Council, the Foreign Affairs Ministry and UNHCR, he said.

On June 21, UNHCR Malaysia representative Richard Towle launched the new card with better security features to overcome past weaknesses that allowed counterfeiting.

According to a New Straits Times’ report then, Towle had said the new card is backed by better biometric data collection, besides including security features such as 3D holograms and bar codes.

The UNHCR had also launched the UNHCR VERIFY-MY mobile application, which Towle said would enable local enforcement agencies or those doing UNHCR work to scan the “Secure Quick Response” (SQR) code on the new cards to verify their authenticity.

UNHCR’s Senior Protection Officer (Oversight) Michael Wells had said the old version of the card was easier to replicate, while the new card had one of the best technologies globally with a biometric scan of fingers, face and retina.

The NST had earlier this year reported that there are syndicates selling counterfeit UNHCR cards ― that are only meant for verified refugees and asylum seekers ― to illegal immigrants.