Public health first: Call for moratorium on immigration detention of undocumented migrants

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Press Statement by the People’s Health Forum on 24 MAY 2020

The People’s Health Forum (PHF) expresses its deepest regret that the Federal Government has failed to pay heed to various civil society groups calling for a moratorium on actions against undocumented migrants for at least six months.

The PHF had sent a memorandum to the Prime Minister on 20th March 2020 on this exact issue, and another statement on 1st May expressing deep concern and repeating the call to the government to desist from pursuing the crackdown on undocumented migrant workers. Three weeks later (as of 23rd May) 60 and 21 positive COVID-19 cases have been detected in the immigration detention centres in Bukit Jalil and Semenyih respectively.

In the press conference held by the Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob on 22nd May, he stated that the 60 confirmed positive cases in Bukit Jalil had been in detention in the centre even before the Movement Control Order (MCO) took effect, and that all 114 of the immigration officers on duty had tested negative.

Based on the above statements which were made public and the absence of information on case zero in the centres, the supposition that the infection started in both detention centres before the MCO is ambiguous and arguable. In view of the foregoing circumstances and limited information provided, it could well be likely that the infection source might have been from the newer detainees mixing with the detainees who had been in detention prior to the MCO.

The government has been forewarned on the implications of crackdown measures during this time of crisis and outbreak, i.e., new outbreaks of disease and more critically, disease transmission being driven underground. While the government has stated that it will be screening detainees in the detention centres, testing alone is not a fool proof measure to prevent the spread of the disease.

If the testing is only done once, there is no guarantee that the person would be free from infection as the infected person may test negative because the test is unable to detect new exposure to infection within five days.

We are aware that three weeks are already sufficient to trigger two to three generations of spread of the virus. Given pre-existing cramped conditions in the centres and pressure that will be put on the infrastructure with more detainees being brought in, there are grave concerns regarding the government’s ability to ensure that robust preventive measures can be established in such conditions to prevent the transmission of disease. These include the salience of social distancing and limitations posed to environmental non-pharmaceutical interventions within cramped and overcrowded conditions. In the absence of robust preventive measures, a high number of infections among the detainees is highly likely, mirroring what happened in Singapore.

Contrary to prevailing logic, the government’s punitive approach toward undocumented migrants and refugees during this time of crisis poses a public health risk (e.g. some individuals attempted escape from the EMCO areas). It also hurts the local economy as many sectors do rely on such workers for their day-to-day operations. It further puts immigration detention officers at grave risk of contracting the disease, with their potential infection posing health risks to their family members too.

Regrettably, the arrests of undocumented migrants by the government at this time has also had another inadvertent impact in terms of creating a deficit of trust in the health system among the migrant communities. It erodes the impact of the tremendous efforts put in by the Ministry of Health in combating this pandemic. Civil society groups worked hard to be the bridge between the migrant communities and the government to build trust in the health system which is critical to controlling this outbreak. Upon assurance of the Ministry of Health in the early days of the pandemic, they encouraged migrant and refugee communities to come out for COVID-19 screening voluntarily and without fear. Although non-citizens and the trust they place in the health system may not appear to be a matter of importance from a legal point of view, it is critical from a public health point of view in arresting the spread of disease. Non-health related ministries need to understand the importance of respecting public health principles especially during this time of outbreak of a disease which has no proven treatment, and which relies critically on prevention of disease transmission.

In this connection, the government must remember that as a member of the global community, the United Nations, and the World Health Organization, it has a higher duty of care toward people in incarceration, and an obligation to control the spread of the pandemic regionally and globally. The detection of COVID-19 in deported migrants, as in the case of the migrants from Myanmar, does not augur well for Malaysia’s reputation in this regard. Actions of deportation of migrants from Malaysia at this time also raise concern as migrant sending countries such as Nepal have closed their borders to prevent the ravaging of their fragile health systems by the pandemic. This is the time for States and people to show solidarity and support for what is a global pandemic.

Finally, it cannot be over-emphasized that taking care and monitoring the health of large migrant communities in the country is a way to protect co-existing local communities as well.

As such we urgently call upon the government to:

1. Immediately stop the arrests of undocumented migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons without documents.

2. Allow the Ministry of Health to take lead on the control of transmission of COVID-19, including for non-citizens, and support the Ministry of Health in its efforts in combating the pandemic.

3. Invite SUHAKAM to undertake a monitoring visit to detention centres to provide an independent report of the events leading to the detection of COVID-19 cases in immigration detention centres, and ensuring that strong preventive measures are being undertaken to control disease transmission in immigration detention centres.

4. Cooperate with international agencies and civil society organizations to increase access to hygiene products and other necessary supplies to detainees and to allow the UN High Commission on Refugees to identify and register Persons of Concern.

5. Develop a coherent and rational migration policy framework that links with an effective blueprint of the country’s human resource needs.

6. In order to preserve the rule of law, take action against xenophobic hate speech against migrant communities whose contributions over the years has built this country.

Convenors of the People’s Health Forum:

Agora Society Malaysia
Citizens’ Health Initiative
Health Equity Initiatives
Parti Sosialis Malaysia
Third World Network
24.5.2020
* The People’s Health Forum (PHF) is a space created by NGOs and individuals who are committed to the principle of Health for All, i.e. universal healthcare as an entitlement based not on the ability to pay, but on the basis of need

Detention of Undocumented Migrants will Negate Ministry of Health’s Efforts in COVID-19 Control

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Press Statement by the People’s Health Forum on 1 MAY 2020 in Kuala Lumpur

Detention of Undocumented Migrants will Negate Ministry of Health’s Efforts in COVID-19 Control

The People’s Health Forum is extremely concerned by the announcement made on 29 April by senior minister, Datuk Sri Ismail Shabri Yaakob, that the government will reverse its previous promise to not arrest any undocumented migrants or refugees during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The earlier announcement by the Ministry of Health (MoH) that undocumented migrants and refugees should not fear arrest in coming forward for screening and testing was intended to establish mutual trust and voluntary cooperation from this population, as the pandemic teaches us that the virus does not respect race, nationality, ethnicity, religion or documentation status.

According to the senior minister, “the government will place all illegal immigrants identified in areas under an enhanced movement control order (EMCO) at immigration detention centres after the order is lifted” (29 April, The Edge Market). Not only is this group of people already struggling to sustain their livelihoods on a daily basis, many of them as refugees live with the sequelae of past traumatic experiences, including contending with ongoing feelings of fear, helplessness and even terror on a daily basis. Most of us, if not all, are fortunate enough to live without such fear. Hard as it might be for us to imagine the effect of the announcement on their physical and mental wellbeing with the renewed fear of being targeted and arrested once again, it will most definitely increase distrust and drive them and the disease transmission underground. Inadvertently, such a strategy is contrary to principles of good public health practice and does not bode well for them or the health of Malaysians.

More than once, the MOH has reminded the entire nation of the utmost importance of having as many infected persons as possible receive treatment in order to contain the spread of the virus. The detention of undocumented migrants will negate MOH’s hard work and positive efforts in controlling the spread of COVID-19. Moreover, as the Director-General (DG) of Health has urged the people to come together as one, alongside the government, to fight against the disease, the latest decision on detaining undocumented migrants seems even more unfathomable. Clearly, the government cannot and will not be able to do it alone, let alone through harsh and strict measures.

It is high time that everyone, especially those among the various ministries engaged in the control of the disease transmission, is on the same page as the MOH in order that we do not act in any way that negates the tremendous efforts made by our MOH in controlling the disease. Let us also not forget our health care workers who are toiling on the front lines, risking their lives and those of their families for the rest of us, and do our part to make their efforts for all of us count.

We understand the rising and valid concerns over the apparently growing number of undocumented migrants and refugees in the country. This is an outcome of years of lack of a coherent policy framework on migration and the absence of a concrete policy related to  refugees, which is a responsibility of the government. Rather than arresting the few that are trapped in the EMCO areas, the government should instead work toward developing a coherent policy on migration, employ diplomatic means with the countries of origin to resolve the problem of irregular migration, target human trafficking syndicates, and investigate the corruption that is contributing to the problem.

To make things worse, we also observe that many Malaysian citizens have engaged in hurling baseless accusations, such as the false claim that the Rohingya has monopolised businesses at Pasar Borong Selayang, or the claim that refugees are given RM35 per day as pocket money. The latter has been refuted by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR (see “UNHCR Denies Fake News On Daily Assistance For All Refugees” published on 29 April, on www.unhcr.org). There are many more assertions that are just xenophobic and racist insults. It is regrettable that many have turned a blind eye to the actual contributions of this population, as workers and consumers, to our country and economy.

We strongly urge the government to address the issue based on facts and figures and the principle of human rights. Acquiescing to fake news and appeasing populist pressures do not help strengthen the rule of law or democracy in the country.

Singapore made the mistake of excluding the 1.4 million migrant workers in their midst (especially the 300,000 housed in congested dormitory complexes) from their modelling of the COVID-19 spread in Singapore, and has to consequently deal with an uncontrolled outbreak within the workers’ dormitories. Let us not add to our own problems of congested migrant workers’ housing by driving undocumented migrants underground, beyond the reach of contact tracing.

We therefore call on the government to suspend the decision to arrest undocumented migrants. Let us get everyone who may have contracted the virus to step forward for timely testing and treatment without fear. Let us truly leave no one behind, like the Prime Minister has once pledged.

Convenors of the People’s Health Forum:

Agora Society Malaysia
Citizens’ Health Initiative
Health Equity Initiatives
Parti Sosialis Malaysia
Third World Network
1.5.2020

* The People’s Health Forum (PHF) is a space created by NGOs and individuals who are committed to the principle of Health for All, i.e. universal healthcare as an entitlement based not on the ability to pay, but on the basis of need.

Media inquiry please contact Dr Sharuna Verghis 019-6188770 or Dr Lim Chee Han 014-9272586

Memorandum and Open Letter to the Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, by The People’s Health Forum on 20 MAR 2020 in Kuala Lumpur 

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Memorandum and Open Letter to the Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, by The People’s Health Forum on 20 MAR 2020 in Kuala Lumpur

Dear Prime Minister,

Implementation of additional measures which have to be taken in order to curb the COVID-19 outbreak

We, the signatories of the letter would like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation on the ongoing efforts by the Ministry of Health (MOH) personnel to combat the outbreak of COVID-19.  MOH has played a pivotal role in the containment of COVID-19 among Malaysians by identifying the cases, tracing and isolating the contacts of those who are infected with the virus and then treating them.

We, the civil society groups, academics, health activists and medical practitioners have been closely following the development of the COVID-19 outbreak in Malaysia and at international level. Thus, we would like to suggest a few additional measures, which have to be implemented in order to further strengthen our country’s response to control this serious public health threat. Some of the additional measures are:

  1. Isolation of COVID-19 contact cases

We welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement on 11/3/2020 pertaining to the establishment of the COVID-19 Fund managed by the country’s National Disaster Management Agency to help the COVID-19 patients and those who have had close contact with these patients.  We hope that these efforts could be further strengthened by:

a)Establishing a joint committee with the Health Department, Local Council, National Disaster Management Agency and the Welfare Department in every town and at district level to trace those who have had been in contact with COVID-19 patients (through phone calls), identify their needs and send essentials such as food, their regular medications, and other essentials for those families who may have not been able to carry out these tasks because their family members are infected with the virus.

b)The opening of temporary boarding facilities to accommodate the contacts of COVID-19 patients who may live in a crowded environment such as low cost flats where effective isolation could not be done because of limited space and toilets/ bathrooms have to be shared. The sports center and local college hostels could be temporarily used to accommodate these contacts who may not be able to isolate themselves in their houses. This is important because it can prevent the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

  1. The Restricted Movement Order

We support the government’s announcement on the Restriction of Movement Order that is effective from March 18th to March 31st 2020. At this stage, this is a very important measure to curb the outbreak of COVID-19 among people from all walks of life. If this measure is not implemented strictly, the transmission of COVID-19 will burden the public health system. Resources and manpower will be channeled to combat the outbreak and this will disrupt the ongoing treatment for patients with cancer, HIV and other chronic illnesses.

In conjunction with YAB’s announcement on the Restricted Movement Order dated March 16th 2020, we would like to highlight some grey areas that need to be addressed for the welfare of the rakyat:

a)The daily wage earners, especially women workers working in the service sectors such as restaurants and coffee shops are paid on a daily basis and if these premises are closed, they will not be paid any compensation. Many of them earn a meager income and will face difficulties in providing the necessities of their children in the coming two weeks.

b)We also need to consider the situation of factory workers who are paid on monthly basis, those who are working in goods and retails shops and other premises. These groups will be given leave by their employers due to this order and their state of income is very unclear and therefore needs to be clarified. Are they given paid leave or non-paid leave? How about the employers who are facing cash flow issues – no business activity but will have to pay fixed costs such as rental and salary?

c)Many debtors who have mortgages and loans will face difficulties in paying their monthly installments for March and the coming month due to the losses / decrease in their incomes.  Their situation will need to be taken into account and measures should be taken to alleviate their concerns.

Our suggestions for the above mentioned issues:

  • Rationed food for families who are unable to buy their monthly house provisions due to loss of income. A committee at the district level should be established with the involvement of the Social Welfare Department and NGOs working on welfare issues in the district to identify families, which are facing these problems. An adequate allocation has to be channeled to the Social Welfare Department to carry out this programme.
  • Employers with businesses making annual net revenue of RM300, 000 and above should be ordered to pay full salaries for the period of ‘restriction of movement order’. On the other hand, business owners with smaller net margin profits should be given some flexibilities to pay half month salaries for this period.  SME banks or other similar monetary institutions should provide a special fund, which could be lent to those business owners who are facing cash flow problems so that they are able to pay their employees’ salaries. This loan should have low interest rates.
  • All the banks should be ordered not to impose any penalties to those who are unable to pay their monthly installments for these two months. (The loan/ mortgage repayment period should be extended for the next 2 months.)

The above-mentioned recommendations would represent a critical alleviation for those who are in pressing or dire situations. Besides that, they would also generate the aggregate demand in the domestic market, which will eventually lower the probability of recession/ economy crisis.

  1. Managing the Foreign Workers

There are about 2 million foreign workers and another 4 million or more undocumented workers.  Currently, many of them have to fork out a hefty sum of money for their diagnosis and treatment in public hospitals and clinics. Therefore, many are reluctant to visit MOH clinics and hospitals. The letter from the MOH’s Treasury Secretary Department dated 29/1/2020 has stated that investigative diagnosis and treatment will be free for patients suspected of having COVID-19.  However, this letter did not state if the investigative diagnosis and treatment is free of charge for patients suspected of having COVID-19 who then are diagnosed as free of COVID-19.  The MOH letter stated that ‘patients who do not show any symptoms will be charged an outpatient rate amounting to RM40 and other incidental charges where applicable.’ Many foreign workers will continue to be reluctant to visit public hospitals if they have to incur high charges for treatment of other conditions (false COVID-19 cases). This will undermine our country’s efforts to curb the transmission among Malaysians.  We recommend for a deferral on the implementation of Treatment Fees for Foreign Workers (2014) for the next 6 months. It will helpful for now if the treatment fees for the foreign workers is reduced to the same treatment fees for Malaysia and this information should be disseminated effectively among the foreign workers.

Besides that, the government will have look into the issues of detention, arrest and filing of charges against those who are classified as undocumented foreign workers (UFC) / illegal immigrants (IL).  Many of them may have fears of deportation and thus avoid coming to government institutions. Those who are COVID-19 positive will not reveal the names and their addresses of their close contacts who may be susceptible to the virus due to fear of deportation, arrest and detention. Thus, due to the staggering number of UFCs and ILs (approximately 4 million), their fear and reluctance to cooperate will undermine our efforts to curb this outbreak.

Our suggestion:  Declare/ Announce a 6 months moratorium on ULCs and ILs. The government should be able to guarantee that ULCs and ILs would not be arrested, charged or deported to their origin countries for not having legal/ legitimate travel documents for a particular period of time.

Additional suggestions: To establish a joint committee with foreign worker communities in order to facilitate MOH’s efforts in identifying and tracing the contact cases of COVID-19 among these communities. This joint committee should also be responsible in disseminating the information pertaining to health services and COVID-19 among the foreign workers. The government should provide accommodation / hostels to place these identified contacts of COVID-19.

 

  1. The safety of MOH personnel

Malaysians are very grateful to all the doctors, nurses, paramedics and hospitals auxiliary workers who are on the front lines dealing with identified COVID-19 patients or those who are suspected of having COVID-19.

Our recommendations:

  • Ensure they are provided with sufficient personnel protective equipment such as surgical masks, visors, protective clothes (surgical gowns) and gloves.
  • Have regular discussions or counseling sessions with the medical workers so they have an avenue to channel their distress and together devise ways on how to overcome their distress and other identified issues pertaining to work.

Our recommendations in this letter will require coordinated efforts with other agencies and ministries. Thus, it is very vital to establish a National Committee that comprises of MOH, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Social Welfare, Ministry of Communications and Multimedia, National Disaster Management Agency, Ministry of Higher Education and Ministry of Housing and Local Government.  This National Committee should be chaired by your good self so that immediate responses pertaining to the management of the COVID-19 outbreak could be taken. We also hope that adequate allocation is provided to MOH and other relevant ministries, which are involved in the implementation of all programmes aimed at curbing the COVID-19 outbreak.

Thank you.

 

The People’s Health Forum

20.3.2020

* The People’s Health Forum (PHF) is a space created by NGOs and individuals who are committed to the principle of Health for All, i.e. universal healthcare as an entitlement based not on the ability to pay, but on the basis of need

 

Media inquiry please contact Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj 019-5616807

 

Individuals and Groups that have endorsed the memorandum are as below:

 

CSO:

 

  1. Agora Society
  2. Aliran
  3. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
  4. Arts-ED Penang
  5. Bersih 2.0
  6. Beyond Borders Malaysia
  7. Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
  8. Childline Foundation
  9. Citizens’ Health Initiative
  10. Consumers Association of Penang
  11. Engage
  12. Federation of Reproductive Health Associations, Malaysia
  13. Foreign Spouses Support Group
  14. Galen Centre for Health & Social Policy
  15. Health Equity Initiatives
  16. IDRIS Association
  17. In Between Cultura
  18. Institute for Education Development, Social, Religious, and Cultural Studies (INFEST)
  19. International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF)
  20. International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW-AP)
  21. Johor Yellow Flame (JYF)
  22. Justice For Sisters
  23. KRYSS Network
  24. Labour Law Reform Coalition
  25. Local Unionist Networks (Malaysia)
  26. Majlis Tindakan Ekonomi Melayu
  27. Malaysian Campaign For Equal Citizenship
  28. MyPJ (Persatuan Penduduk Petaling Jaya)
  29. North South Initiative
  30. Our Journey
  31. Parti Sosialis Malaysia
  32. Penang Forum
  33. Penang Heritage Trust
  34. Penang Hills Watch
  35. Penang Stop Trafficking Campaign
  36. Peoples Like Us Support Ourselves (PLUsos)
  37. Persatuan Komuniti Prihatin Selangor & KL
  38. Persatuan Penduduk Galing Besar Kuantan
  39. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
  40. Persekutuan Persatuan-Persatuan Lembaga Pengurus Sekolah Cina Malaysia (Dong Zong)
  41. Pertubuhan IKRAM Malaysia
  42. Pertubuhan Solidariti Hijau Kuantan
  43. Pertubuhan Wanita Malaysia untuk Kawalan Tembakau & Kesihatan (MyWATCH)
  44. Positive Malaysian Treatment Access & Advocacy Group (MTAAG+)
  45. Pusat KOMAS
  46. Sahabat Alam Malaysia
  47. Save Malaysia Stop Lynas
  48. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia
  49. SUARAM (Suara Rakyat Malaysia)
  50. Tanjung Bungah Residents Association (TBRA)
  51. Third World Network
  52. Toy Libraries Malaysia
  53. Women’s Aid Organisation
  54. Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)

 

 

Individual:

  1. Abel Benjamin Lim
  2. Andrew Filmer
  3. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Aini Hamid
  4. Andrew Khoo
  5. S Arutchelvam
  6. Chee Yoke Ling
  7. Chan Yit Fei
  8. Charis Loke
  9. Dr Chee Heng Leng
  10. Chen Yoke Pin
  11. Chia Kien Eng
  12. Choong Tet Sieu
  13. Chow Chee Keong
  14. Chris Lowe
  15. Dr Chua Hang Kuen
  16. Foo Wei Meng
  17. Dr Jane Cardosa
  18. Janet Pillai
  19. Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj
  20. Dr Kam Suan Pheng
  21. Karen Lai
  22. Khoo Ai Wah
  23. Prof Khoo Boo Teik
  24. Dr Khoo Teng Jian
  25. Dr Khoo Teng Xiang
  26. Kuppamal Ramasamy
  27. Lee Chin Ark
  28. Lee Khek Mui
  29. Lee-Lim Ai Ping
  30. Lew Chee Leng
  31. Dr Lim Chee Han
  32. Lim Kah Cheng
  33. Lim Poh Im
  34. Loo Que Lin
  35. Low Swee Heong
  36. Dr Lynnie Lim
  37. Dr Mohd Nasir
  38. Mok Yim Paik
  39. Ng Fun Boon
  40. Norhidayah Nadila Maulad Daud
  41. Dr Peter Gan Kim Soon
  42. Prema Devaraj
  43. Dr. Rajadorai Natarajah
  44. Radziah Binti Othuman Sahib
  45. Roslin bt Ludiin
  46. Sathesh Raj
  47. Shanthi Dairam
  48. Sharon Khoo
  49. A Sivarajan
  50. Dr Sharuna Verghis
  51. Sherley Tan
  52. Soh Sook Hwa
  53. Stefan Dawson
  54. Syed Mohamed Shahruddin
  55. Tan Pek Leng
  56. Dr Toh Kin Woon
  57. Dr Vivian Lee
  58. Prof Wong Chin Huat
  59. Wong Hoy Cheong
  60. Wong Sau Ngan
  61. Yap Heng Lung
  62. Yatie Jonet
  63. Yeap Jin Soo
  64. Yee Pey Cheng
  65. Zi Qing Low

Moratorium dan Reassessment on MySalam Scheme

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To

YAB Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad
Prime Minister of Malaysia

YAB Tun,

Re: Moratorium dan Reassessment on MySalam Scheme

We, groups and individuals who undersign this appeal letter, are very concerned with the MySalam scheme which was recently launched by the Malaysian government. From the statements of the Minister of Finance and Minister of Health, we understand that the MySalam scheme contains two components.

Component I: A lump sum payment of RM 8, 000 to the individuals who are in the B40 group, age between 18 years old to 55 years old, if they are diagnosed with any of the 36 illnesses;
Component II: A daily payment of RM 50 to individuals in the same group, upon their admission into government hospital, with a cap of 14 days every year.


We also understand that the Great Eastern Insurance Company will be paid RM 400 million a year (premium of RM 112 per person for 3.7 million individuals) for a period of 5 years, for providing this protection to the targeted group in the B40 group. According to the statement by the Minister of Finance, the payment is made from a fund of RM 2 billion, which was already paid by the Great Eastern Company to the Malaysian Government, in order to be exempted from the requirement of selling 30% of its share to Malaysian Institutions, such as KWSP and PNB.

We accept the good will of the government in aiding the citizens in the B40 group despite the nation being burdened by debts previously incurred by BN’s administration. However, several matters in this scheme have raised our doubts and worries. One of which is the fact that the government has not conducted an actuarial assessment on the package, which was offered by Great Eastern.

Under these exclusion clauses, it is impossible for a patient with Parkinson’s Disease (#30) to receive RM 8, 000.00 in the coming 5 years, because this disease usually occurs in people with ages more than 70 years old and it will take more than 10 years to deteriorate to the level where the Activities of Daily Living (ADL) are impaired. The patients with Parkinson’s Disease, who have difficulty in carrying out their ADL are usually diagnosed 10 years earlier, and are then excluded from the scheme. The new cases of Parkinson’s Disease who are diagnosed after 1/1/2019 will not reach the level of impairment on ADL within the period of 5 years. The clauses on ADL will also exclude many patients with meningitis (#3), encephalitis (#13) and head injury (#24) from benefiting from MySalam scheme.

Other than the ADL clause, there is also another clause on “permanency” or permanent disability for meningitis, encephalitis and head injury. Is it possible that the Great Eastern Company will reject the claims of patients with these illnesses, even though they fulfill the criteria of experiencing difficulty with ADL, due to reasons of “permanency”?

There are also exclusion clauses which are not clearly stated – heart attacks (18), weak hearts or even cardiomyopathy (#8) and cancer (#7) are only eligible to receive a payment of RM 8, 000 if their illness is of a specified severity! Does the Malaysian Government know the severity of these illnesses to be entitled to receive RM 8, 000? Or does the Minister of Finance wholly believe in the sincerity of the Great Eastern company without undertaking a detailed study on the quantum of assistance which will be received by the B40 group through this MySalam scheme?

We feel that it is imperative that the MySalam scheme be temporarily suspended so that an actuarial assessment can be conducted to estimate the expected quantum of payments within a year in accordance with MySalam scheme after all exclusion clauses are taken into account. If the quantum is far less than RM 400 million payable by the government for the protection of the scheme, we should revoke MySalam scheme and look for other methods to use the RM 2 billion compensation for the welfare of the B40 group.

One of the methods to be considered is to use this amount to help patients from the B40 group to pay for equipment and appliances, which is now payable by government hospital patients, such as metal plates and screws for orthopedic surgery, eye lenses for cataract surgery, drug-eluting stents for angioplasty procedures and so on. This represents a huge burden on the patients from the B40 group and the assistance in buying these equipments would very much alleviate their financial burden.

We hope the Prime Minister can intervene in this matter to ensure the RM 2 billion from the Great Eastern Company would be best utilized for the citizens in B40 group.

Thank you.

So far the following people and groups have agreed to endorse

  1. Agora Society
  2. Aliran
  3. Association of Toy Libraries Malaysia
  4. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
  5. Baramkini
  6. Blindspot
  7. Childline Malaysia, MCTF
  8. Child Development Initiative Malaysia
  9. Citizens’ Health Initiative
  10. Concerned Citizens’ Group
  11. El Shaddai
  12. Federation of Reproductive Health Associations Malaysia (FRHAM)
  13. Foreign Spouses Support Group (FSSG)
  14. Gabungan Pembebasan Akademik
  15. G25 Malaysia
  16. Health Equity Initiatives
  17. Jaringan Raykat Tertindas (JERIT)
  18. Komrad Borneo
  19. Kuliah Buku (KUBU)
  20. Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA)
  21. Malaysian Council for Child Welfare
  22. Malaysian Hindu Youth Council
  23. Malaysian Dravidian Association
  24. Malaysia Muda
  25. Malaysia Rare Disorders Society
  26. Marhaen Institute
  27. Myskills Foundation (MSF)
  28. Parti Murbah
  29. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita
  30. Parti Socialis Malaysia (PSM)
  31. Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat (KOMAS)
  32. Sabah Women Action Resource Group
  33. Sahabat Rakyat (SR)
  34. SAVE Rivers
  35. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia
  36. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
  37. Sunflower Electoral Education Movement (SEED)
  38. Tenaganita
  39. Women Development Organisation Malaysia
  40. Yayasan Chow Kit (YCK)

and by:

  1. Tan Sri Hasmy Agam
  2. Prof. Emeritus Chan Chee Khoon
  3. Datin P. H. Wong
  4. Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
  5. Datin Dr. Lim Swee Im
  6. Dato’ Dr. Narimah Mat Awin
  7. Dr. Aaron Fernandez
  8. Mr. Anil Netto
  9. Dr. Chee Heng Leng
  10. Mr. Choo Seow Theang
  11. Dr. David Quek
  12. Mr. Henry Loh Kee Wey
  13. Ms. Ho Yock Lin
  14. Ms. Irene Xavier
  15. Mr. Jeremy Kwan
  16. Mr. Joseph Paul Maliamauv
  17. Ms. Josie M. Fernandez
  18. Ms. Katrina Maliamauv
  19. Mr. Lee Kek Siong  
  20. Dr. Mary Cardosa
  21. Ms. Mary Shanthi Dairiam
  22. Mr. Mohd Nasir
  23. Mr. Muhammad Sha’ani b. Abdullah
  24. Ms. Nisha Subanayagam
  25. Ms. Noor Farida Ariffin
  26. Mr. Ng Kian Nam
  27. Dr. Patricia Martinez
  28. Dr. Prema Devaraj
  29. Dr. Raj Karim
  30. Ms. Ramani Gurusamy
  31. Dato Dr. Ronald McCoy
  32. Ms. Sarasvathy Muthu
  33. Dr. Sharifah Munirah Alatas
  34. Ms. Sharmila Sekaran
  35. Dr. Subramaniam Pillai
  36. Dr. Syed Husin Ali
  37. Dr. Tan Ai Mei
  38. Ms. Tham Hui Ying
  39. Dr. Tium Ling Ta
  40. Dr. TK Wong
  41. Dr. Toh Kin Woon
  42. Dr. Uma Devi Palanisamy
  43. Dr. Wan Namaziah
  44. Mr. Wee Soon Cheng
  45. Ms. Wong Mei Lee
  46. Ms. Yap Sook Yee
  47. Ms. Yeong Moh Foong

 

STOP THE SUFFERING OF THE ROHINGYA IN RAKHINE STATE AND THE ROHINGYA DIASPORA

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The on-going atrocities committed against the Rohingya in Rakhine state in the most recent escalation of violence has caused much suffering to those in the Myanmar state and the Rohingya diaspora, many of whom are living in protracted displacement as refugees and asylum seekers in countries of asylum such as Bangladesh, Thailand, and Malaysia.

The decades-long persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar has led to hundreds of thousands fleeing Myanmar. The latest wave of violence has deeply affected the Rohingya community in Malaysia, many of whom continue to receive distressing reports of relatives who have been killed, are missing or are struggling with hunger and exhaustion in their journey to safety. Many have also lost contact with relatives and are gripped by anxiety.  Some community members have reported their consideration of turning to human smugglers to help their loved ones make the journey out of Myanmar, thereby increasing the possible risk of them being trafficked. For others, the feelings of relief after family members have successfully crossed over to Bangladesh are short lived as, yet again, they are faced with distressing reports of the lack of access to food, sanitation and shelter.

The Rohingya community in Malaysia with families in Bangladesh and/or fleeing Myanmar to Bangladesh are having their meagre resources depleted as they spend exorbitant amount of money to communicate with their loved ones and try to support their flight from the terrifying violence back home. Additionally, their ongoing fears, uncertainties and dilemmas and the stress of having to make difficult decisions that impact their lives here and the lives of those in Rakhine State and Bangladesh, has led to a community exhausting all their resources and reaching the end of their tether. Community members report a deepening sense of helplessness, hopelessness and desperation. One community member reported that the only respite from her daily anguish is the fleeting call from her family to communicate to her of their whereabouts. She says,  “…otherwise, what is there to hope? There is no hope”.

This sense of absolute despair and chronic stress exacerbates the distress of a vulnerable population. The traumatic pre-flight and flight conditions of the Rohingya from the preceding years have resulted in acute and chronic health problems such as physical injuries, musculoskeletal problems, and malnutrition. For others, the perilous journey has also resulted in clinical diagnoses of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health disorders.

Health Equity Initiatives is concerned about the rapidly heightened anxiety and stress of the Rohingya community in Malaysia that is caused by the escalating violence in Rakhine state. We therefore call on the international community to condemn the human rights violations in Myanmar and work towards stopping the wave of atrocities in Myanmar. Closer to home, it is crucial that the Malaysian government and people support refugees and asylum seekers towards the recognition of their rights and protection under the law, in humanitarian solidarity. Through the recognition of these rights, refugees and asylum seekers will be able to access the healthcare and gainful employment established and contribute formally to the country.

Health Equity Initiatives

Stop the arrest and detention of asylum seeking women accessing maternal health care

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Last week, three asylum seeking women who were admitted to GHKL to deliver their babies, were informed that they would be sent to immigration detention after delivering their babies. Reportedly, the hospital personnel notified the immigration authorities about the two women. The immigration authorities in turn informed the husbands of the women that their wives would be sent to detention after delivering their babies. The women and their husbands experienced great anxiety while waiting for the babies to be born in addition to struggling with the usual fears associated with child-birth.

This week, an asylum seeker was sent to detention with her new born baby in spite of pleas to let the woman stay overnight at the hospital until UNHCR had the opportunity to intervene in the morning.

The previous week, an asylum seeking woman who delivered her baby in GHKL was sent to immigration detention while her baby remains in the hospital. The husband is concerned about his wife’s post natal care as well as the fact that the baby is missing its mother’s care.

New admissions of asylum seeking women to GHKL continue to be told that they will be detained after delivery, even those who have undergone a Caesarean section delivery.

Health Equity Initiatives is extremely concerned about this new development. Not only does it exacerbate the ongoing fears of refugees and asylum seekers while accessing health care; it also holds the strong possibility that this population would avoid an institutional delivery or resort to unsafe abortions if they get pregnant. Both these factors are risk factors for maternal mortality given the specific vulnerabilities of their lives in Malaysia.  Additionally, the risk of maternal morbidity including infection is exacerbated when postnatal care is lacking, especially for Caesarean births.

Malaysia has made a global commitment to reduce maternal mortality through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In addition, the country has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), 1979. As such Malaysia is obliged to uphold the provision of elimination of discrimination against women in their access to health care throughout the life cycle, particularly in the areas of family planning, pregnancy and confinement and during the post-natal period, as stated in CEDAW and its General Recommendation No. 24.

Malaysia is regularly cited by international agencies including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank as a “good practice” for its success in terms of maternal health. The rapid decline in maternal mortality is especially attributed to expanded access to an integrated package of maternal and child health services and ensuring that such efforts reached the poor.  Yet, reports which identify a significant prevalence of maternal deaths among non-citizen women attribute it to their limited access to maternal health services.

The WHO emphasizes that the establishment and maintenance of breastfeeding should be one of the major goals of good postpartum care.  It states that breast milk is the optimal food for newborn infants and prevents infant morbidity and mortality caused by infections and malnutrition.  Malaysia’s National Breastfeeding Policy which was formulated in 1993 and revised in 2005 recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. Kementrian Kesihatan Malaysia also recommends placing the baby on the mother’s chest for at least 10 minutes for skin to skin contact and putting the baby to the breast for suckling within one hour after delivery.  Skin-to skin contact between mother and baby brings about many physiological and psychological benefits for the baby, including greater respiratory, temperature, and glucose stabilization, optimal brain development, protection from the negative effects of separation, maternal attachment, and improved infant neurobehavioral development.  As such, separation from the mother or placement in detention poses significant health risks to the new born.  Placement in detention would aggravate the newborn’s exposure to infections.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 1990 ratified by Malaysia requires State parties to ensure that discrimination does not undermine children’s health. Malaysia as a State Party to the CRC and having enacted the Child Act 2010, has a duty to protect the health of the newborn child. Importantly, CRC and its General Comment No. 15 emphasize the importance of access to health care, especially appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers in order to reduce neonatal deaths.

Refugees and asylum seeking women experience specific and adverse sexual and reproductive health vulnerabilities and outcomes owing to exposure to conflict and military presence, gender and sexual based violence, and poverty.  They require the protection of the international community. Immigration policies of arresting and detaining such vulnerable women, especially at the time of child birth, make Malaysia and its policies appear cruel and inhumane. Additionally, such health care practices do not reflect the regard for science and evidence that underline Malaysia’s Ministry of Health policies in terms of maternal health.

In line with Malaysia’s international commitments to CEDAW, CRC and the MDGs, Health Equity Initiatives calls on the Malaysian government to immediately withdraw this new policy of arresting and detaining asylum seeking women accessing maternal health care. Instead we call on the government to make maternal health care, including family planning services accessible to refugees and asylum seekers and place their human rights at the centre of policies related to them. Undoubtedly, these are complex issues. Managing them requires robust technical and ethical guidance as well as integrated national and regional approaches to burden sharing. Health Equity Initiatives offers to work together with the Malaysian government, UNHCR, and other stake holders concerned about refugees and maternal health to find a durable solution to the issue of accessibility of refugees and asylum seekers to health care, including maternal health care.

Prepared by

Sharuna Verghis

Director

Health Equity Initiatives

Endorsed by

All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)

Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)

Malaysian Care

Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI)

Pusat Kebajikan Good Shepherd (PKGS)

Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia (RRAAM)

Shanthi Dairiam –  Former CEDAW Committee member

Tenaganita

World Refugee Day

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In conjunction with World Refugee Day, we call for the Malaysian government to accord the right to work for refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.

There are 98,100 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia, 92% of which are from Burma’s different ethnic groups. 8,200 are from Sri Lanka, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.Refugees and asylum seekers are considered “illegal immigrants” under Malaysian law, specifically the Immigration Act 1959/63 (Act 155). Unable to work legally in the country, they survive by working in the informal and often unregulated work sectors, performing ‘3-D work’(dirty, demanding, dangerous) without legal protection.  This increases their vulnerability to forced labor and human trafficking and its negative consequences for ill-health.

This is evidenced in Health Equity Initiative’s research report Forced Labor, Human Trafficking and Forced Labor: The Experiences of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Malaysia. This research revealed a high prevalence of forced labor and mental health distress whereby 61.2% of refugees and asylum seekers in the 1,074 study population who had worked full time had experienced forced labor. About 70% of the respondents showed symptoms of Depression and 68% showed signs of Anxiety. In-depth interviews revealed practices of deception and fraud, withholding of wages, physical confinement, non-payment of wages, threats of denunciation to authorities, induced indebtedness, physical violence, and sale into ownership by their employers.

The social and legal factors contributing to the mental ill health in this population living and working side by side with Malaysians needs to be urgently addressed. We therefore call on the Malaysian government to:

  1. Accord refugees and asylum seekers the right to work
  2. Recognize refugees and asylum seekers and ratify the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol Regulate the labor sector to prevent and protect against exploitation and forced labor
  3. Ensure that all persons who have experienced human trafficking and forced labor, regardless of their legal status,  have access to appropriate legal, medical and protection services and that they will not be refouled

Endorsed by:

1.       All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)

2.       Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM)

3.       Anak Muda Sarawak

4.       Community Action Network (CAN)

5.       Community Development Center (CDC)

6.       Education and Research Association for Consumers (ERA Consumer)

7.       Health Equity Initiatives (HEI)

8.       Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (Jerit)

9.       Jaringan Utara Migrasi dan Pelarian (JUMP)

10.   Lawyers For Liberty (LFL)

11.   Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI)

12.  Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)

13.   Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor dan Wilayah Persekutuan (PERMAS)

14.   Persatuan Sahabat Wanita

15.  Pusat Kebajikan Good Shepherd

16.   Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat (KOMAS)

17.   Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)

18.   Tenaganita

19.   The National Human Rights Society, Malaysia (HAKAM)

20.   Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)

Concerns over immigration related developments that jeopardize the security of refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia

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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.

Endorsed by:

1. Health Equity Initiatives (HEI)

2. Lawyers for Liberty (LFL)

3. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)

4. Tenaganita

5. SUARAM

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/

6P Programme Redress Woes of Refugees

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Dear Editor,

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Force (hitting with baton, pushing, and dragging by sleeve) was used in Putrajaya in attempts to organize the refugees for the registration process.
  3. Mothers with babies, the elderly and the ill had to stand and wait for long hours.
  4. 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.”.
  5. 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

Letter for the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Australia on the Refugee Swap Deal

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The Honourable Chris Bowen
Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Australia
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra, ACT 2600                                                                                                                                          24 August 2011

Dear Minister,

The refugee swap agreement between Australia and Malaysia is of deep concern to us because it undermines existing legitimate mechanisms for international protection of people fleeing persecution, and, exacerbates the problem of shrinking protection space for refugees and asylum seekers worldwide, and in the Asia Pacific in particular.

CONCERNS REGARDING SPECIFIC POPULATIONS

We deeply regret that Australia has decided to proceed with the transfer of the newly arrived asylum seekers who are currently being detained on Christmas Island, even considering the use of force, in spite of the traumatic experiences endured by these people in their country of origin and during the perilous boat journey.

Children

We strongly urge Australia to refrain from sending all children, including unaccompanied minors and children traveling with their families to Malaysia.

Refugee children have generally not been exempt from arrest and detention in Malaysian immigration detention centers, and are often detained with adults. A 17 year old girl who was held in detention for 15 days with her 13 year old sister, and was traumatized by the experience and brought to the mental health services of Health Equity Initiatives (HEI) in 2009, presented with prominent symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Depression including reliving the detention experience, poor appetite, intermittent insomnia, low mood, frequent headaches, fatigue, negative thoughts about herself, and a fear of uniformed personnel.

The “private education arrangements in the community” (Annex-A: Operational Guidelines to Support Transfers and Resettlement; 3.3(a)), that transferees will have access to includes ill equipped and understaffed schools run by underpaid volunteers most of the time.  Given that these schools are not officially registered, refugee children are unable to graduate with certification.

Asylum Seekers with Mental Health Problems

We also ask that vulnerability assessments including mental health assessments be done in Australia, and those with mental health problems not be sent to Malaysia, to prevent an exacerbation of their condition, given the various stressors they will need to endure.

The following items related to the arrangement between the governments of Australia and Malaysia on transfer and resettlement do not provide for reliable guarantees of basic human rights of the transferees.

  • “Operations under this Arrangement will be carried out in accordance with the domestic laws, rules, regulations and national policies from time to time in force in each country…”  (Arrangement Between the Government of Australia and the Government Of Malaysia on Transfer and Resettlement; Clause 12)
  • “Transferees will enjoy an adequate standard of treatment, including having access to the same support as other asylum seekers and refugees in the community” (Annex-A: Operational Guidelines to Support Transfers and Resettlement; 3.0)

It is a known fact that Malaysia lacks an administrative and legal framework for refugee protection.  The lack of legal recognition of refugees and asylum seekers in the country constantly exposes them to the risk of arrest and impedes their access to education, legal employment, health care, and other social freedoms.

Further, there is no information to date on the modalities of how “(a) Transferees will have ongoing access to self reliance opportunities particularly through employment, and, (b) Transferees will be encouraged to become self sufficient as soon as possible. “ (Annex-A: Operational Guidelines to Support Transfers and Resettlement; 3.2)

Afghan Refugees

We also urge the Australian government to promptly and without delay determine the refugee status of those Afghan refugees on Christmas Island and to immediately release from detention all those who are found to be refugees.

A study by HEI in 2009 with 73 Afghan refugees and asylum seekers indicates that the majority of Afghan refugees in Malaysia belong to ethnic minorities (mainly Hazara, but also others like the Tajiks, Qizilbash) and religious minorities (Shiite) fleeing persecution by the Taliban.  Their religious status poses potential risks for them in Malaysia and impedes their integration locally.  Moreover, linguistic and cultural barriers make it extremely difficult for them to find employment and rent houses in Malaysia. Their lack of community support networks which are imperative for those surviving in subterranean spaces without a legal identity exacerbates the multi-dimensional poverty experienced by this group.

As a community that had endured decades of conflict and inter-generational refugeehood we believe that unless the humanitarian and security situation in Afghanistan improves, unless the strident efforts to compel Afghan refugees in Iran to return home to situations of insecurity are capped, and unless there is an increase in resettlement opportunities, they will continue to undertake precarious journeys further afield in search of more effective refugee protection and more sustainable life solutions.

We plead for a thoughtful and compassionate consideration of these above mentioned population groups requiring international protection.

RECOMMENDATIONS

There is a compelling body of evidence on the association between forced migration related policies and poor mental health outcomes. As such, we are constrained to draw attention to the potential negative health outcomes of policies such as the current arrangement and strongly urge Australia to:

  1. Refrain from sending all children, including unaccompanied minors and children traveling with their families to Malaysia.
  2. Give special consideration to the international protection needs of Afghan refugees, including promptly and without delay determining the refugee status of those Afghan refugees on Christmas Island and to immediately release from detention all those who are found to be refugees.
  3. Cease from sending those suffering from mental health problems to Malaysia.
  4. Recognize and integrate the special protection needs of refugees and asylum seekers within enforcement of border control, anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling strategies.
  5. Uphold its obligations under international law, especially in relation to the 1951 Refugee Convention

Please find attached to this letter the report of the study on Afghan refugees and asylum seekers in the Klang Valley.

Please feel free to contact us if you require any additional information.

Yours Faithfully,

  1. Health Equity Initiatives (HEI)
  2. Women’s Aid Organisation
  3. Lawyers for Liberty
  4. Tenaganita
  5. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
  6. Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI)
  7. Pusat Kebajikan Good Shepherd
  8. Good Shepherd Sisters Malaysia

CC:

  1. Mr. Andrew Metcalfe, Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC)
  2. Prime Minister’s Office
  3. Ms. Emily Johnson, Adviser, Office of Senator Sarah Hanson-Young
  4. Mr. Paul Power, Chief Executive Officer, Refugee Council of Australia
  5. Dr. Graham Thom, Amnesty International Australia
  6. Mr. Paris Aristotle, Director, Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture
  7. Ms. Michelle Dimasi, Director, Asylum Seekers Christmas Island