Saturday, June 29, 2013

Why were Burmese migrants leaving Malaysia?

Why were Burmese migrants leaving Malaysia? Was it because they had been the targets of violence in several incidents? Or was it due to a new crackdown by police? 
Aung Myo Oo, a Burmese migrant who was attacked by unknown assailants on June 3, 2013, lies in a hospital bed in Kuala Lumpur recovering from his injuries - Photo: The Irrawaddy
Charles Hector takes a look.

 Aung Myo Oo, a Burmese migrant who was attacked by unknown assailants on 3 June 2013, lies in a hospital bed in Kuala Lumpur recovering from his injuries – Photo: The Irrawaddy Who was committing the violence was unclear. Was it locals or foreigners? Is Malaysia using the ‘ethnic clashes’ in Burma as a justification for a selective crackdown on Burmese migrants in Malaysia? We have not heard of the status of the police investigations…. And, is it not odd that people (possible witnesses or suspects) are being sent back to Burma before the investigations are completed and the alleged perpetrators are brought to justice? Are the Burmese migrants returning on their own free will – or are they really being ‘deported’? How many documented migrants have returned to their home country? That would be an indicator as to why they are returning. For the undocumented migrants who have been arrested and in detention, leaving to go back to Burma speedily at this time when the Myanmar government is supportive – and there are people offering free flight tickets home – many would grab this opportunity rather than continue to languish in immigration detention centres for undocumented migrants. At present, there are 4,400 undocumented migrants in Malaysia’s detention centres for undocumented migrants. That is really a very large number. Sadly, even alternative media seem to be biased in their reporting when it comes to this issue? Their ‘independence’ may be affected possibly by personal reasons or bias when it comes to this issue. 

After all, the Burmese Muslim groups have come out and stated that they are not involved… “We don’t know who did these attacks,” says San Win, chairman of the Malaysia Myanmar Free Funeral Service, a Kuala Lumpur-based group that assists Burmese migrants. Flicking through gory photos of roughly stitched victims of the violence, he adds, “but we think it could be the Rohingya people.” 

 The president of the Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia (Merhom), Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani, disputes this speculation. “This is not correct,” he says, citing previous attacks by Buddhists on Muslims in Burma, which he says did not prompt sectarian reprisals in Malaysia. “We have to respect Malaysian law and if any Rohingya breaks the law, we don’t support it,” Abdul Ghani adds.

 – Irrawaddy, 13 June 2013 Another excerpt from Irrawady: A week after a series of violent attacks that has left five Burmese migrant workers in Malaysia dead, and as local authorities talk of deporting thousands arrested in connection with the violence, many Burmese in the country are considering leaving voluntarily — if they can. “Many migrants who obtained work permits want to leave Malaysia now because they are very afraid. They no longer want to stay here,” said Myat Ko, a Burmese migrant living in Kuala Lumpur. 

According to Myat Ko, who is a member of a network of Burmese migrant workers in Malaysia, 18 Burmese nationals left the country on Thursday, and many more are expected to return to Burma in the coming days. Among them, he said, are around 800 who have overstayed their visas, making them vulnerable to the police sweep that has ensued in the wake of a series of attacks from 30 May to 7 June. The attacks, carried out by unknown assailants, and apparently targeting Burmese Buddhists, have raised fears of further violence to come, despite assurances from the Malaysian government that it has the situation under control.

 On Friday, Burmese state-run media reported that a total of five people had died as a result of the attacks, up from previous reports of four fatalities. Several others have been hospitalized. In response to the panic among some Burmese in Malaysia, several of Burma’s richest businessmen, including Aung Ko Win, chairman of Kanbawza Bank, Zaw Zaw, the managing director of the Max Myanmar Group, and Tay Za, founder of the Htoo Trading Company, have pledged to help those wish to return. “Some will get a free ticket, while others will get a 50 per cent discount to fly back to Burma,” said Myat Ko, who is also involved in fundraising efforts. However, lack of return airfare is not the only obstacle for some who don’t want to stay in Malaysia. 

Many say that bureaucratic red tape at the Burmese embassy, where they are expected to submit ID certificates and other documents before they are permitted to return, is another problem. Others say that their Malaysian employers won’t let them leave unless they pay a RM1,000 (US$320) fine. On Thursday, Malaysia’s Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar said after a meeting with a visiting Burmese delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Zin Yaw that his government is seeking Burmese cooperation in repatriating Burmese nationals. “We have 4,400 Myanmars detained in immigration detention centres now, and we have invited the Myanmar authorities, especially the embassy, to… bring them back,” the Malaysian minister said, according to a report by Agence France-Presse. He also called on the UN refugee agency UNHCR to expedite processing of Burmese refugees who feel they can’t return to Burma. There are an estimated 95,000 Burmese refugees living in Malaysia. They are allowed to stay in the country, but are not granted legal status. There are believed to be a total of 400,000 Burmese nationals living in Malaysia, including many undocumented migrants and holders of fake UNHCR registration cards. - Irrawaddy, 14 June, 2013.