Friday, November 28, 2014

Refugees in Malaysia are ill-treated

MP SPEAKS Yesterday, the Speaker of Parliament allowed a one hour debate on the Al Jazeera 101 East documentary, titled “Malaysia’s Unwanted”, which was a shocking story on the mistreatment of refugees in Malaysia.

This debate was allowed under Motion 18 (1) of the Parliamentary Standing Orders because the speaker judged that this motion was specific; of public importance; and of immediate concern. The motion was filed by my colleague, Lim Lip Eng, the MP for Segambut.

Unfortunately, the reply of Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaffar showed that he is not aware of the seriousness of the accusations revealed in the Al Jazeera programme, even though he was interviewed in the programme.

In particular, Wan Junaidi’s response shows that he is totally ignorant of the articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) of which Malaysia is a signatory.

During yesterday’s debate, I pointed out two examples in the Al Jazeeradocumentary, of how Malaysia flouted the CRC.

Firstly, a Myanmar refugee was thrown in the lock-up not long after she had given birth and as such, was separated from her child.

Secondly, a refugee from Afghanistan put in a detention centre told the Al Jazeera reporter that he could only meet his son, who was also at the detention centre, once a month and that after a year in the detention centre, his son did not recognise him as his father. 

I also referred to 6 Articles in the UN CRC that were flouted in the two examples above, including Articles 4, 8, 9, 10, 20 and 22 (See below).

Wan Juniadi’s reply was that children have to be detained in the detention centres on humanitarian grounds so that they can be close to their parents.

This totally ignores the specific requirements set out in the CRC to protect the liberty of children, including that a child must only be detained as a measure of last resort and that they only be detained for the shortest appropriate time.

This was certainly not the case for the Afghan man whose child had been detained at the same detention centre for one year.

Detained child could not recognise father

In addition, the humanitarian grounds which the deputy minister referred to had been totally ignored in this instance, since the father only gets to see his son once a month and his son doesn’t even recognise him as the father!

It was revealing that the deputy minister failed to answer my specific question relating to the case of the Afghani refugee and his child. Perhaps Wan Junaidi has not even seen the documentary himself!

The plight of the refugees in detention centres is not new. Former Suhakam commissioner Chiam Heng Keng had highlighted this before in areport dated Dec 5, 2008.

Unfortunately, if this attitude of the Malaysian government is to continue to be in a state of denial over these issues, these problems will continue to the detriment of these refugees and Malaysia’s international reputation.

Appendix: List of relevant articles from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child:

Article 4: Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognised in the present Convention.

Article 8: Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.

Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity.

Article 9: Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.

Article 10: In accordance with the obligation of States Parties under Article 9, applications by a child or his or her parents to enter or leave a State Party for the purpose of family reunification shall be dealt with by States Parties in a positive, humane and expeditious manner. States Parties shall further ensure that the submission of such a request shall entail no adverse consequences for the applicants and for the members of their family.

Article 20: A child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment, or in whose own best interests cannot be allowed to remain in that environment, shall be entitled to special protection and assistance provided by the State.

Article 22: Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that a child who is seeking refugee status or who is considered a refugee in accordance with applicable international or domestic law and procedures shall, whether unaccompanied or accompanied by his or her parents or by any other person, receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of applicable rights set forth in the present Convention and in other international human rights or humanitarian instruments to which the said States are Parties.

DR ONG KIAN MING is the DAP Member of Parliament for Serdang. He can be reached at