WE, the undersigned, who work closely with refugees and asylum-seekers from Myanmar living in Malaysia, express our deep concern over two recent immigration-related developments that jeopardise the security of refugees and asylum-seekers in Malaysia.
Firstly, whilst we laud the government for considering the issue of over-crowding at detention centres, the detainee swap initiative between the Malaysian and Myanmar governments is not the appropriate solution. In fact, it could potentially put the lives of refugees and asylum-seekers at risk.
Ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar have over the past 20 years been fleeing oppressive conditions of forced labour, confiscation of lands/homes, systematic rape, torture and other forms of religious and ethnic persecution, which has led to the exodus of hundreds of thousands of people. The majority of Myanmar nationals 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 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 of immigration detainees contravenes this principle because of the presence of detainees in detention centres who are potentially refugees and asylum-seekers.
Secondly, during the 6P registration 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 recognised by the UNHCR. We call on the government to immediately rectify this error to prevent refugees from being refouled; and to recognise that any registration of refugees must be done in full collaboration with the UNHCR, within a framework that will recognise and protect their rights.
We therefore call on the government to:
-- Work in close collaboration with the UNHCR to ascertain and immediately release individuals who are refugees and especially asylum-seekers who have yet to lodge an asylum claim with the UNHCR;
-- Provide lawyers and NGOs access to detention centres to represent detainees who seek to lodge an asylum claim.
Health Equity InitiativesLawyers for Liberty Women’s Aid OrganisationTenaganitaSuaramMalaysian Social Research Institute