Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lawyer: Malaysia must show world it treats refugees well

A screen grab of the Al Jazeera documentary which sees a Myanmar refugee crying as she speaks to a relative over a handphone.

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 22, 2014:

Despite priding itself as a progressive country, Malaysia’s treatment of asylum seekers is reason for embarrassment.

Lawyers for Liberty’s executive director Eric Paulsen said this in response to a 26-minute documentary entitled Malaysia’s Unwanted by Al Jazeera, which portrayed the harsh reality allegedly faced by refugees at the hands of Malaysian authorities.

“The predicament and persecution faced by the refugees in this country are the reason Malaysia has been branded among the top 10 worst countries for refugees to seek refuge in.

“We are sitting in the United Nations Security Council and, therefore, it is incumbent that we show the world we can treat people, wherever they are from, with the highest level of humanity,” he told The Rakyat Post.

In the documentary, refugees waiting for their asylum to be approved were seen being arrested and detained in an immigration detention centre here, where their basic rights and necessities were stripped away from them.

Paulsen said the government must bear in mind that the refugees were those who had no other choice but to flee their war-torn countries and who had been exposed to all sorts of physical harm.

It is for this reason that he called on the government to be kind towards the refugees.

“Just because they are in detention, it doesn’t mean that they should be mistreated to the point of having dirty toilet water as the only source to stay hydrated. They also shouldn’t be beaten or be stripped of their dignity.”

The exclusive, which was aired on Friday morning, revealed that even children were being held in the detention centre, which according to Paulsen was a clear violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which Malaysia is one of its signatories.

Paulsen explained that as a member, who had agreed to the provisions provided by the convention, the country must ensure it acted in accordance with the standards applied and, hence, should not have allowed any children to be detained, including their mothers.

He said even though as a sovereign state, Malaysia had the right to ensure only those lawful were free to move around, it was important to take into account the international law provisions on refugees and asylum seekers.

Paulsen said asylum seekers were a special category of persons who required international protection as they were fleeing prosecution.

He cited the Myanmar Rohingya refugees as an example of people running away from a slow genocide that was taking place in their country.

“They, just like us, have children, families and dreams. Why can’t we help them achieve those dreams instead of treating them like criminals?”

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Paul Low, when contacted, said he would comment on the matter next week.