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 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

* 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

Moratorium dan Reassessment on MySalam Scheme

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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



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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


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


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


6. Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI)

This letter was published in Free Malaysia today on the 19 October 2011,

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.

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.


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.


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.


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


  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

Desperate wait for refugees in Malaysia

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Muhammad Rafique can’t deny his hopes have been boosted by the Malaysia deal, but
tears well up in his eyes as he explains that 15 years as a refugee have taught him not
to be so foolish as to trust such feelings.

On the walls inside the squalid shack where he lives with his wife and young child are a
map of Burma and a poster of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The 34-year-old, an ethnic Rohingya who arrived in Malaysia from Burma when he was
19, is desperate to know whether he and his family might be among the 4000 refugees
that will be resettled in Australia.

Under the deal signed in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, Australia will resettle 1000 bona-
fide refugees a year over four years, in exchange for Malaysia taking the next 800
asylum seekers that arrive in Australia by boat.

But Rafique and his family are just three among more than 90,000 refugees in Malaysia.
“I want to go to Australia with my family. I hope to have a chance to go to Australia,” he

It’s obvious when he speaks that he sees their chances as bleak.

His English is poor and, having been a refugee for his entire adult life, Rafique has no

He believes his chances are even poorer because the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which will have input into who makes it into the
4000, “doesn’t like to send Muslim people to Australia”.

“I am worried the UNHCR don’t want to pick me and my family. I fear the UNHCR will
not want to listen to me.”

Unlike the 800 asylum seekers that will be transferred from Australia, Rafique has no
rights to work or access to education.

He has little access to health care, and like many of the refugees waiting in a long
queue in Malaysia, Rafique suffers from anxiety and depression brought on by the
parlous life he and his family live, and their uncertain future.

A study by the non-government organisation, Health Equity and Initiatives (HEI), in
March this year found that 70 per cent of asylum seekers and refugees in Malaysia
suffered symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress as a result of human trafficking,
forced labour and unemployment.

Xavier Pereira, the director of HEI, said the figure was three times higher than in any
normal population.

“Both men and women are equally affected, especially those who are unemployed,
involved in human trafficking and forced labour,” he said.

The level of anxiety was much higher among those who were yet to be granted refugee
status, according to the study of 1074 asylum seekers and refugees, aged between 18
to 70 years.

Rafique has been ripped off by agents that have promised to help with resettlement in
another country, and he admits to having paid a people smuggler in a failed attempt to
make it to Australia on a boat.

He cannot return to Burma, according to Amnesty International, because as he is from
the Rohingya minority, the Burmese authorities would refuse to grant him citizenship,
rendering him stateless.

In Burma, he would suffer from systematic persecution, including forced labour, forced
eviction, land confiscation, and severe restrictions on freedom of movement.
He says he will now do the right thing and wait, and hope for a chance of resettlement in

But he says others will still pay people smugglers and get on the boats in a perilous
crossing to Australia, despite the deal with Malaysia meaning that within 72 hours, they
will be sent back.

“They will still go, whatever chance they have, they must try to go, even if it means they
go to the back of the queue,” Rafique said.

Karlis Salna, AAP South-East Asia Correspondent

This article was published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 28 July 2011.



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該項論壇是由Health Equity Initiatives(HEI)、律師公會及大馬職工總會聯辦。




This article was published in the Sin Chew Daily on 26 July 2011.