Sunday, June 21, 2015

Bar: Putrajaya should accept asylum-seekers, refugees

Asylum seekers and refugees are exposed to arrest, detention, whipping and deportation.

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Bar Council has renewed its call to Putrajaya to ratify the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol.

It wants the government to put in place a suitable legal and administrative framework for dealing with refugees and asylum seekers; and work closely with stakeholders such as UNHCR Malaysia, civil society organisations, and the Bar towards achieving holistic and humane solutions for them.

The Bar Council also called on the government to ensure that a proper recruitment and monitoring system under the Ministry of Human Resources was put in place. “This would ensure that asylum seekers and refugees are accorded basic employment rights in respect of wages, fair working hours, off-days, medical benefits, and workplace health and safety protection,” said Malaysian Bar Council President Steven Thiru.

In this regard, he added, the various measures and recommendations contained in the proposal entitled “Developing a Comprehensive Policy Framework for Refugees and Asylum Seekers”, which was prepared by the Malaysian Bar Council in 2011, should be immediately implemented. “This will lead to an overall improvement in the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.”

Thiru was expressing why World Refugee Day 2015 assumes particular significance to Malaysia this year in the wake of the recent boat-people saga off the country’s shores and the discovery of mass graves as well as “death camps” at the Perlis-Thailand border.

It was also acknowledging the indomitable spirit and courage of all refugees on World Refugee Day 2015.

The Bar Council feels that it’s important to highlight a regional approach in dealing with concerns regarding asylum seekers and refugees.

In this connection, continued Thiru, a deeply worrying aspect of the problem was that of human trafficking and migrant smuggling. “All nations in this region share a common responsibility to confront and deal with this scourge.”

“The recent reported allegation that the Government of Australia paid human traffickers to return 65 asylum seekers to Indonesia was very shocking.”

Such irresponsible conduct, if proven, deserves condemnation and must attract criminal prosecution, said Thiru. “It certainly militates against the fight to eradicate human trafficking and migrant smuggling in this region.”

He argued that this was an unmitigated tragedy of human suffering and loss of lives.

It has brought into sharp focus Malaysia’s approach towards asylum seekers, refugees, as well as the perpetrators and victims of human trafficking and migrant smuggling, he stressed. “It is a timely reminder to the government to respect the rights and dignity of asylum seekers and refugees.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia reported that as at July 2014 there were 47,352 asylum seekers (pending cases), 98,207 refugees, 40,000 stateless persons, and 80,000 individuals who do not fall into any of these other categories, residing in Malaysia. This brings the population to a staggering total of 265,559.

Unlike economic migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Malaysia are often victims of various forms of persecution, oppression and deprivation. They are subjected to harassment, extortion, physical abuse or assault and ill treatment. These persons live in an environment of fear, and insecurity.

The country’s laws do not accord asylum seekers and refugees due recognition, care and protection. They are treated as “illegal immigrants” under the Immigration Act 1959/1963.

They are exposed to arrest, detention, whipping and deportation.

This was compounded by Malaysia’s refusal to ratify the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the 1951 Convention) and the 1967 Protocol Relating (the 1967 Protocol) to the Status of Refugees, both of which are instruments encapsulating customary international law in relation to the recognition of the socio-economic rights of refugees and the provision of humanitarian assistance and social integration.

Asylum seekers and refugees are prohibited from seeking lawful employment.

They are forced to support themselves on a casual engagement basis without any lawfully binding employment contract. This makes them vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination as regards the non-payment of wages, long working hours, and harsh working conditions.