A coalition of migrant rights NGOs in Penang have condemned the rounding up of some 80 people, including 60 refugees and asylum seekers, in an operation by the Immigration Department in Bagan Dalam last night.
The group, Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign (PSHTC), said those picked up, including women and children, were herded into lorries and taken away.
The NGO chided Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who on the world stage in New York recently showed what a generous and welcoming place Malaysia is for refugees.
Najib had pledged to the United Nations then that Malaysia would take in some 3,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years, and talked of how "we must respect our common humanity”.
“It is unclear how mounting major raids on already vulnerable families and individuals, including detaining and incarcerating young children, represents our common humanity,” PSHTC said in a statement today.
“Meantime, the 150,000-plus registered refugees and asylum seekers already here have long had no rights (not even the right to work), and are horribly vulnerable to arrest, extortion, detention, deportation or worse,” the NGO added.
Asylum seekers living there for 20 years
PSHTC said Rohingya and other Burmese Muslims have found a home in Bagan Dalam, albeit unprotected, and have been living there for some 20 years or more.
It said families live together, interspersed with the local community, and some of the children have been born in Malaysia.
These are the Rohingya who fled the horrors taking place in the Arakan state of Myanmar, or others from Myanmar fleeing intolerable abuses, persecution and threats to their lives.
PSHTC said these refugees have survived a journey that for many included time in the horror camps of Thailand and Malaysia, but were now registered with the UNHCR as refugees.
“However, many will not have got a UNHCR Refugee Card yet, since the process of verification is a long one,” PSHTC said.
“While waiting for the card, these people are described as ‘asylum seekers’, but for the police, immigration and other authorities, this so often seems to count for nothing,” the group lamented.
PSHTC said refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers desperately need Malaysia’s support, and the government needs to respect, enshrine and enforce basic rights, including their right to work.
These women, men and children need to be given some protection against the unscrupulous (including human traffickers), the NGO added.
“Instead, we stand aside while thousands in our community live precarious lives, always at the mercy of the authorities and others, never secure, always on the edge of harassment and extortion, and in fear of arrest, detention and deportation,” the group said.
“Clearly, if we are to give substance to our prime minister’s promise to the world, we need to transform our thinking, transform our reactions and transform our responses so that we really do embrace every woman, man and child who is here as fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters and part of the global family. We cannot simply ‘pass on by’.”