A group of Penang non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and members of the public gathered at Esplanade in George Town this evening to show solidarity for survivors of human trafficking in Malaysia.
There was a candle light vigil, youth lying on the grass covered with sheets playing dead to highlight the suffering and deaths of refugees, song performances and speeches by various leaders highlighting the plight of the oppressed and discriminated foreigners.
James Lochhead of Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign said they stood in solidarity with newly-arrived refugees in Malaysia and mourn those who had lost their lives over the years due to abuse and trafficking while they searched for refuge.
"We never want the deaths and trauma to be repeated. The real criminals are the unscrupulous governments and criminal syndicates and a world dominated by big business that put profit far above people.
"Let us call governments and businesses to account, where oppression and exploitation are to be found... let us protect the vulnerable and hunt down and bring to justice human traffickers, people smugglers, criminal syndicates and modern day slavers.
"Let us say to the Myanmar government that it has breached its duties to its citizens and to humanity... Let us say not on our watch and stop the horrors of human trafficking and exploitation of the people," he said to the crowd of more than 30 people.
Last week, thousands of refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh tried to enter Malaysia illegally by sea. Some were caught and detained by the Malaysian immigration while others were pushed back.
Participants at the vigil in Esplanade, George Town, pretending to be Rohingya who died while seeking asylum abroad. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Hasnoor Hussain, May 22, 2015.After criticism and pressure, as well as further deliberation with its neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to house the refugees for a year until the people were resettled by the international community.
Aliran, Citizens International, Persatuan Sahabat Prihatin Pulau Pinang, Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign and Suaram Penang appealed to all parties at all levels, including the state and federal authorities, to treat all the survivors, including those who have newly arrived with respect and humanity.
"As victims of political circumstances, who are fleeing to save their lives and those of their children by seeking the safety of Malaysian shores, they should be met with basic humanitarian principles of refuge and protection.
"Many of those coming off the boats and swimming ashore are Rohingya asylum seekers from Rakhine, Myanmar, who had faced extreme violence and persecution there.
"Many will have suffered at the hands of human traffickers and other criminals as well. They should not be treated or labelled illegal immigrants or wrongdoers, as they have no choice but to try and find safety until there is lasting peace, without persecution or discrimination, in their homeland," the group said in a joint statement.
The groups also welcomed the initiative taken by the Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian governments to discuss with Myanmar towards resolving the conflict in Rakhine and to tackle the problem of human trafficking and people smuggling.
They said a lasting peaceful solution to the present conflict was crucial for the elimination of the mass exodus of people, which had led to human trafficking over the years.
Participants hold placards advocating for Rohingya refugees. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Hasnoor Hussain, May 22, 2015.Solving the problem would also contribute to peace and stability in the region, they said.
"An Asean solution to eliminate human trafficking is urgently needed, to be dealt together with the international community."
With Malaysia being the present chair of Asean and a non-permanent member of the United Nations (UN) Security Council, the group said Putrajaya must take the lead in confronting the issues in Myanmar and in the region which have given rise to the present situation.
The group also renewed calls for Putrajaya to ratify the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol and recognise the right of people to seek asylum enshrined in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. – May 22, 2015.
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