We, the undersigned organizations who work closely with refugees and asylum seekers from Burma living in Malaysia, express our deep concern over two recent immigration related developments that jeopardize the security of refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.
Firstly, whilst we laud the government for considering the issue of over-crowding at the detention centres, the detainee swap initiative between the Malaysian and Burmese government is not the appropriate solution to the problem. In fact, it could potentially put the lives of refugee and asylum seeker detainees at risk.
Ethnic and religious minorities in Burma have been experiencing ongoing persecution leading to the exodus of several hundreds of thousands of people over the past twenty years fleeing oppressive conditions of forced labor, confiscation of lands/homes, systematic rape, torture and other forms of religious and ethnic persecution. The majority of the population from Burma in Malaysia are persons fleeing such persecution.
Under the Malaysian Immigration Act 1959/1963, refugees and asylum seekers too are detained in immigration detention centres. Unlike migrants, refugees and asylum seekers have a well-founded fear of persecution in their homeland; hence they flee their country of origin and cannot return home. 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.” The deportation arising from the swap with Burma for immigration detainees contravenes this principle because of the presence of detainees in detention centres who are potentially refugees and asylum seekers.
Secondly, during the registration of the 6P programme, it was highlighted that some refugee applicants received a “Slip Pendaftaran PATI,” which contained a line that said “Tujuan :Pulang ke Negara Asal” (Intention: Return to Home Country). This is despite the fact that they are refugees who are recognized by UNHCR. We call on the government to immediately rectify this error to prevent refugees from being refouled. We urge the government to recognize that any registration of refugees must be done in full collaboration with UNHCR, within a framework that will recognize and protect the rights of refugees.
We therefore call on the government to:
1. Work in close collaboration with UNHCR to ascertain and immediately release individuals who are refugees and especially asylum seekers who have yet to lodge an asylum claim with UNHCR in the detention centres.
2. Provide access to lawyers and NGOs to detention centres to represent detainees who seek to lodge an asylum claim.
3. Immediately rectify the errors in the 6P registration process of refugees and asylum seekers and cooperate fully with UNHCR to establish a framework for the recognition of the rights refugees.
1. Health Equity Initiatives (HEI)
2. Lawyers for Liberty (LFL)
3. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
6. Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI)
This letter was published in Free Malaysia today on the 19 October 2011, http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2011/10/19/dont-jeopardise%C2%AD%C2%AD-safety-of-refugees-and-asylum-seekers/