Health Equity Initiatives (HEI) is an organization that works closely with refugee and asylum seekers in Malaysia. There are currently over 94,000 refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Refugees are individuals who have a well-founded fear of persecution in their homeland; hence they flee their country of origin and cannot return home.
We have deep concerns with respect to the current government initiated 6P Programme, particularly with regard to refugees and asylum seekers. Over the last few weeks, HEI has been in close contact with refugee community organizations, and today HEI staff were on site in Putrajaya monitoring the registration process for refugees. We have observed the following:
- There has been a substantial lack of clarity around if/how refugees and asylum seekers can/should register for the Programme. August 23rd marked the first day refugees were told to register under the Programme. The process proved to be chaotic and lacking in organization. Applicants were redirected to different registration locations for the registration process.
- Force (hitting with baton, pushing, and dragging by sleeve) was used in Putrajaya in attempts to organize the refugees for the registration process.
- Mothers with babies, the elderly and the ill had to stand and wait for long hours.
- It was also noted that some applicants received a “Slip Pendaftaran PATI,” which contained a line that said “Tujuan : Pulang ke Negara Asal” (Intention: Return to Home Country) despite the fact that they are refugees who are recognized by UNHCR and cannot be returned to their country of origin. The principle of non-refoulement in Article 33 (1) of the 1951 Refugee Convention states that: “No Contracting State shall expel or return (’refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”.
- To date, there has been minimal discussion of how asylum seekers will be addressed under this Programme.
The uncertainty surrounding the registration process is causing even greater anxiety and stress to this marginalized community that is already experiencing many mental health risks and problems.
HEI is also very concerned about how this Programme will impact asylum seekers who have yet to lodge an asylum claim with UNHCR. They do not have any recognized documents, and they are particularly vulnerable during the Enforcement Phase of the Programme. Under the Malaysian Immigration Act 1959/1963, authorities and RELA will treat them as undocumented migrants. This means they will be subject to criminal offences and deportation which is potentially a direct threat to their lives.
HEI calls on the Malaysian government to publicly clarify the procedures concerning the 6P Programme and to make a concerted effort to adequately communicate the Programme details with the refugee and asylum seeker communities as well as with all organizations that work with them. We also request that the government effectively address the vulnerability of asylum seekers within this Programme and immediately create a protection framework for this group in Malaysia.
Health Equity Initiatives
This letter was published in the News Straits Times, 26 August 2011. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/article-1G1-265361874/redress-woes-registering-refugees.html