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Bar Council urges Government to extend legal aid to all refugees

This picture taken on December 30, 2012 shows Myanmar Rohingya refugees under the custody of Malaysian security officials on Langkawi island, northern Kedah state. About 500 Myanmar nationals swam the last 500 metres to enter Malaysia illegally at the end of a 15-day boat journey at the weekend, leaving one dead, police said on January 1, 2013. (Photo: AFP)

By Rashvinjeet S. Bedi
October 19, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR: The Bar Council has urged the Government to extend legal aid to all refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants.

Migrants, Refugees and Immigration Affairs Committee co-chairperson Datuk M. Ramachelvam said the National Legal Aid Foundation Scheme and legal aid bureau were only available to Malaysians.

He said that with representation, their legal problems could be heard in court instead of just being sentenced or deported.

"Legal representation should be considered a fundamental right for all persons.

“There shouldn't be discrimination based on the principal of being a citizen or otherwise," he said during the launch of reports entitled Equal Only in Name: Human Rights of Stateless Rohingya in Thailand and Malaysia.

The reports were launched by the London-based Equal Rights Trust and Institute for Human Rights and Peace Studies of Mahidol University, Bangkok.

Equal Rights Trust executive director Dr Dimitrina Petrova called on Malaysia and Thailand to recognise the Rohingya and provide them comprehensive protection under international human rights and humanitarian laws.

She said that the situation in Arakan was becoming more serious all the time.

"They are here to stay. The problem won't go away. It is time for the governments to convene and start talking.

"It is a regional issue. It is not feasible for a single country to deal with it. It requires a collective effort," she said.

The Rohingya are considered by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

They are considered to be stateless and are often subjected to arbitrary violence and forced labour by the Myanmar government.

They come mainly from the Arakan state in Myanmar that borders Bangladesh.

To escape persecution back home, they take long and arduous journeys by boat to other countries in the region.

As of August, there are 39,715 Rohingya refugees registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia.

The Malaysian Government does not legally recognise refugees although they are allowed to work in informal sectors.

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