Thursday, June 13, 2013

Do not neglect Myanmar refugee problem

Translated by SOONG PHUI JEE
Sin Chew Daily
Several clashes involving Myanmar nationals had took place in Kuala Lumpur over the past few days. Two Myanmar nationals were killed and it was reported that the clashes were extremely brutal.
More shockingly, the motive behind these clashes is not simple and it is believed to be linked to the recent riots in Myanmar.
Myanmar refugees have become an international concern in recent years. Due to the clashes between the government troops and ethnic armed groups, the continuous political turmoil and war have led to hardship, causing its people to flee. According to the statistics released by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2011, Myanmar was the fifth country with the most refugees under UNHCR responsibility across the globe. There are about 420,000 refugees around the world. Some 100,000 of them were taken in by Thailand while the remaining others have fled to India, Malaysia, Bangladesh and other countries.
It is known that as many as 90,000 Myanmar refugees have registered in Malaysia. The Amnesty International, however, estimated that the actual number might be twice that number. In addition to refugees, there are also a number of legal Myanmar workers in Malaysia. According to a report of the Kuala Lumpur-based Burma Workers' Rights Protection Committee (BWRPC), about 500,000 legal and illegal Myanmar nationals are currently working in Malaysia. If the figure is correct, the problem of Myanmar immigrants has then reached the level requiring the government to seriously address and seek solutions for it.
In fact, many Myanmar refugee villages or communities have emerged nationwide and since their identities are not recognised, they are living like the pariahs. Without a legal working permit, they can only work as illegal cheap labours earning meager wages to support their families. Meanwhile, their children just wander around all day with little chance of schooling.
Many people might not know that although we are accustomed to call Myanmar immigrants refugees, our government actually does not recognise their refugee status as Malaysia is not a signatory of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. It means that the refugees here are not granted any protections. They might be arrested, detained or deported at any time. Therefore, to avoid being arrested, the refugees are sometimes forced to bribe law enforcement officers in various ways, including money and sex.
Myanmar refugees are generally kind and they usually get along with the locals without much problems. They also seldom cause troubles. Incidents like the recent fatal clashes could rarely be found in the past. However, Myanmar refugees are generally facing poverty, exploitation, education and health problems. Our major worry is, it might eventually evolve into social problems in the long run.
The Sulu terrorist incursion in Sabah is a lesson learned. In the face of the increasing number of Myanmar refugees, the government must have a new perspective and try to properly settle them down, or deport them to a third country which is willing to accept them. Otherwise, it would be an time bomb with unpredictable consequences.