Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Stop pretending refugees don’t exist here, Putrajaya told

KUALA LUMPUR, May 13 ― Putrajaya can no longer afford to ignore the rising influx of foreigners seeking refuge in Malaysia and must assume greater responsibility to assist with relief efforts currently undertaken by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as well as NGOs, a DAP lawmaker has said.

Damansara Utama state lawmaker Yeo Bee Yin said that the onus in on the federal government to look into reforming legislation to address the matter, pointing out that its current policy does not recognise the rights of refugees as Malaysia did not sign the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees or the 1967 Protocol.

Refugees coming to Malaysia are usually sent to countries like Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, and the United States for resettlement.

“The 'can’t see can’t hear' system is framed in such a way as if the refugee don’t exist in the country,” Yeo said in a statement here.

“The question now is can Malaysia refugee policy remain status quo in the face of the rising number of refugees? Should we recognise the status of refugee and their rights?

“What cross-boundary solutions should we advocate? How can we get the funding from the international community to help with refugee management in Malaysia?” the Selangor lawmaker asked, adding that the government has a responsibility to ensure that the female refugees are not sexually exploited and that their children are not deprived of a formal education.

Yeo proposed that the government form form a non-partisan refugee committee comprising of representatives from both sides of the political divide, relevant NGOs and international organisations such as UNHCR to discuss ways to reform the current legislative and administrative framework to deal with issues related to refugees.

Yesterday, the Home Ministry classified the over 1,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya who recently arrived at Langkawi are classified as illegal immigrants because Putrajaya does not recognise any refugees- even if they come from countries in conflict.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the 1,058 nationals from Bangladesh and Myanmar will be held at the Belantik detention centre in Kedah over the next one to three months before they are sent back to their home countries.

“As far as Immigration is concerned, everyone is an immigrant,” Wan Junaidi told Malay Mail Online yesterday.

“We’re not a signatory to the United Nations’ Refugee Convention. We are not recognising anybody coming to our country as refugees; it doesn’t matter if the country is a country of conflict. So we classify them as illegal immigrants,” he added.

Out of the 1,058 migrants, there are 993 men, 104 women and 61 children, according to Wan Junaidi. There are 486 Rohingya and 672 Bangladeshis.

UK news website BBC reported on Monday the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) as saying that the recent discovery of dozens of bodies in a mass grave in south Thailand, believed to be of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, has prompted a Thai crackdown that is deterring people smugglers from landing.

BBC said the Bangladeshis and Rohingya, whom the United Nations views as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, are usually brought by people smugglers to Thailand and detained until they can raise money to continue their journey to Malaysia and beyond.

US news channel Al Jazeera America reported Sunday that some 1,600 Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees have landed in Malaysia and Indonesia, apparently after human traffickers abandoned ship and left them alone.

Langkawi deputy police chief Jamil Ahmed reportedly said that most of the migrants were weak and thin, with one of them saying that they have not eaten for three days.

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