Friday, November 12, 2010

Amnesty report blasts Malaysia over refugees

By reporter, Kuala Lumpur
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A refugee settlement in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

Refugees and asylum-seekers in Malaysia are subject to arbitrary arrest, detention in appalling conditions, and deportation to the countries they fled, an Amnesty International report has found.

The report ‘Abused and Abandoned: Refugees Denied Rights in Malaysia’, Amnesty said that refugees and asylum-seekers who arrived in Malaysia are treated as irregular or undocumented workers.

According United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) data, there are 88,100 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the organization, including 81,600 from Myanmar.

There are also some 6,500 refugees and asylum-seekers from other countries, including some 3,500 Sri Lankans, 930 Somalis, 580 Iraqis and 530 Afghans. There are some 19,000 children below the age of 18. Thousands more are unregistered.

Despite the large numbers, Malaysia is not party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and therefore does not formally recognize any form of refugee status.

“Refugees should be able to live with dignity while they are in Malaysia. The government should move immediately to issue refugees official ID cards and grant them the right to work,” said Chris Nash, Head of Refugee and Migrant Rights at Amnesty International.

Amnesty International said that government issued ID cards would provide immediate protection for refugees and asylum seekers from arbitrary detention, harassment and extortion by police and the People’s Volunteer Corps (RELA, Malay acronym), a paramilitary civil volunteer corps.

Local Catholic groups have also backed the call for refugee identity cards as a form of protection against unscrupulous security officials.

“We have a duty, a humane duty to protect and provide assistance to these refugees. The government’s policy is having a negative impact.

“Many of them are suffering from stress related illnesses,” said a Church worker in Kuala Lumpur, who assists Mynamar refugees.