Monthly Archives: June 2009

Calls for compassionate Rohingya oppressed, on the World Refugee Day 2009

Ref: NDPHR (HQ) 34-58/09
Date: June 20, 2009
Press Release…………

(Calls for compassionate Rohingya oppressed)

We, at the Department of Refugees & Humanitarian Affairs of the National Democratic Party for Human Rights (NDPHR – exile) Headquarters based in USA salutes the 9th World Refugee Day that is celebrated in all over the world including the most forgotten Rohingya refugees of Arakan State, Burma.

In 2001, the United Nations General Assembly established 20 June as World Refugee Day. Since then it has been celebrated around the world each year as a salute to the indomitable spirit and courage of the world’s refugees.
It is well known to the world that the African refugees brought this day but these people are still remained in under privilege. Similarly, the Burmese Rohingyas of Arakan, who are the worst victims of human rights abuses, not only in Burma but also in countries of their refuge, particularly, in Muslim countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and United Arab Emirates etc. as none of these countries are party to United Nations Refugee Instrument.

Besides, the Rohingya refugees are neglected for their belief. Western world are also reluctant to do enough for the Rohingya refugees as member states of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) which does not pay clear attention to the causes of Muslim minority but sometimes bring the issue in paper work resolutions.
At present, the 34 million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Among them, there are about 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh including 28,000 official refugees in two official camps of Kutupalong and Nayapara, and in makeshift camp Domdomia, while 500,000 in Saudi Arabia, 400,000 in Pakistan, 35,000 in Malaysia in which several thousand non-Rohingyas were mixed by illegal corrupted people of the authorities.

Although the case of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh get focus in various international media and is paid attention by western world, the rest remain under world pressure for lack of freedom of media and use of monopoly with a view to exploit these unfortunate Rohingya people, who are being used in labor sectors of these countries. But they are treated as illegal immigrant to whom no excuse are made in times of judgment in courts and thus they have to receive cruel punishment under the country’s Immigration Act.

{The National Democratic Party for Human Rights (NDPHR) is the main political party and Human Rights body of the Rohingya ethnic minority of Burma,both in home and exile which won 4 parliamentary seats in the 1990s’ general election. The NDPHR (exile) was formed by some of the party members for  the advancement of Democracy, Human Rights, Peace, Justice, Equality, and freedom in Burma and as well as to advocate the cause of suffering Rohingyas through nonviolent democratic means.}

Of them, the situation of Malaysia went to worst proportion day by day as there is no legal frame work to respect refugee rights but, announced that the Government would provide temporary shelter for Rohingyas in 2004 with a view to bring the Rohingya into modern salvation and to stop international support like Bangladesh which has signed deals with Burmese military to get lease of 50,000 acres of farmland from Arakan, in stepping to end Rohingya refugee issue into silence with an artificial name of solutions.

Indeed, the Muslim States are neither sincere nor positive initiator for the causes of Rohingyas in finding permanent solutions and thus searching perfect advocates from western world to end their miseries with appropriate advocacy.
On this World Refugee Day, we, therefore, honestly appeal to the UN Agencies, ASEAN, Government of USA, UK, Australia, European Union, and other International community to bring the Rohingya refugees’ issue of Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia etc. into a favorable account to liberate from slavery, offering resettlement to third country, where the dignity for lives of humanity is ensured forever.

Department of Refugees & Humanitarian Affairs Committee
National Democratic Party for Human Rights (NDPHR-exile)
State of Wisconsin, USA.
For further information, please contact,
1- Kyaw Soe Aung (Tel: + 414- 736 4273)
2- Myo Swe (Tel: + 414- 671 6309)


Make Malaysia Torture-Free – Ratify Convention on Torture, Set Up the IPCMC –


MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture), on the occasion of the International Day against Torture, that falls on 26 June 2009, noting that Malaysia still has a deploring record of reported incidences of torture and deaths in custody, reiterates the call for Malaysian to immediately ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to immediately establish the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) and implement all the recommendations of the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police, and do all other things necessary to make Malaysia torture-free.


Torture, as defined by The United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, is ‘…any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity…’


Whilst acknowledging that there are many forms of torture perpetrated by different parties, we focus our attention in this statement to torture and deaths in police custody. The denial of healthcare and medication, as seen in the case of Lourdes Mary, the diabetic that collapsed in court with swollen leg by reason after not being given her insulin whilst detained in the police lock-up (Malaysiakini-24/10/2008,Star- 24/10/2008), is also torture.


With regard to deaths in police custody, it is indeed shocking that that over the years, the numbers have been increasing, and not decreasing.  


Relying merely on data provided by the government, it has been disclosed that there have been 150 deaths from 1990 until 2004 (10.7 per year), 108 deaths between 2000 and 2006 (18 per year), and, 85 deaths between 2003 and 2007 (21.25 per year). 


In Malaysia “…from 1990 till September last year [2004], a total of 1,583 deaths among prisoners were recorded in 28 prisons nationwide, with the highest number in 2003 when 279 inmates died. During the same period, 150 detainees died in police lock-ups or custody…” – Malaysiakini, 7/2/2005


‘…Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi today revealed that 108 deaths occurred during police custody between 2000 and 2006…’ – Malaysiakini, 23/4/2007


‘…There were 85 deaths recorded in police lock-ups during the 2003-2007…’ -Bernama, 8/7/2008.


The Malaysian police’s tendency to lie, which is exemplified in the case when the Inspector General of Police physically assaulted handcuffed and blindfolded Anwar Ibrahim, hat resulted in that infamous black eye, must end. Initial reaction of the police was denial, and the then Prime Minister even went so far as to suggest the possibility that the ‘black-eye’ was self-inflicted. Much later, it was proven that it was the head of police himself that tortured the detainee.

In the case of 22 year old Kugan Ananthan, who died on 20/1/2008 at the USJ Taipan police station, The police requested a post-mortem, and it concluded that Kugan died from fluid accumulation in his lungs.  Dissatisfied with the results, Kugan’s family requested a second post-mortem, which was done by the University Malaya Medical Centre’s (UMMC) pathologist, Dr Prashant N Samberkar, who gave the provisional cause of death (pending toxicology) as acute renal failure due to rhbdomyolysis due to blunt trauma to skeletal muscles. But, before the specimens could be sent for toxicology tests, they were confiscated by the police from the pathologist. Photos taken from the second post-mortem report showed that Kugan suffered from massive internal bleeding due to repeated beatings. There were also burnt marks on the body of the victim (Malaysiakini, 4/3/2009, 8/4/2009).

Pathologists/doctors and public servants must act in the interest of  justice and truth, and stop coming out with reports that is meant to ‘protect’ the police, that is  reports that gives the impression that death was caused by reasons other than police actions and/or omissions. 

In another reported case ,  53 year old, A. Gnanapragasam, a wireman who was arrested on June 10, and died a few days later in police custody. The widow, M. Manimatalai, 40, said she suspected foul play as when she last met him on Friday, he had a bruise on his right eye. “I saw that he had a black eye. I was also informed that when he was brought before a Petaling Jaya magistrate for a remand order, he had apparently told the magistrate that he was being beaten and mistreated by the police while in custody,” said the saleswoman and mother of six. (Star, 15/6/2009). This case also highlights our concern about the indifference of some magistrates and courts to complaints of police brutality.


In terms of torture, there have been too many incidences of torture in Malaysia , and some examples are as follows:-


*      the case of a 27-year-old man and 18-year-old teenager being allegedly scalded with hot water at the Brickfields police district headquarters in December 2008 (Malaysiakini, 15/1/2009),


*      A current Member of Parliament, a lawyer and a lay person accidentally “… saw a detainee being tortured by policemen at the Banting police headquarters last Friday. They claimed that the man, in his 20s, was gagged with white tape and his hands bound behind his back… the abuse had taken place during interrogation in a CID room…” (Malay Mail, 9/11/2005)


*      When 2 female detainees were allegedly raped by police officers at the Ampang police Lock-up (Malay Mail, Tuesday, March 12, 2002, Star, Tuesday, March 14, 2002)


  • Complaints from a trailer driver who was allegedly forced to drink his own urine and had crushed chilli padi rubbed on his private part while under detention at the Jasin police lock-up (Star, Friday, February, 1, 2002)


Getting suspects to confess was perceived as the main reason behind torture in police custody, but Malaysia has amended the Criminal Procedure Code that does not allow the prosecution to use anymore statements made by accused during the course of a police investigation.  Despite, the fact that this law has been in force since 7/9/2007, we note sadly that there are still allegations of police torturing persons in their custody.


The police have apparently also installed close-circuit television (CCTV) systems in police stations, but alas without recording capabilities, it is not of much use. MADPET calls for CCTV with audio/video recording capabilities to be installed at all police stations and other places to help end torture by the police. In Hong Kong , as a matter of right, copies of video recordings of the accused in police custody is given to the lawyer to prove that there was no torture and that all was done in accordance with the law. Malaysia should emulate this.  

 MADPET reiterates its call for a torture-free Malaysia

 Charles Hector

for  Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (MADPET)

26th June 2009

  (For further information, contact Charles Hector (019-2371300,

Recent Karen Exodus Raises Questions about UNHCR Role

source from irrawaddy news, 17 June 2009,

The latest joint attacks in Karen State by Burmese and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) forces, which began on June 7, have forced an estimated 6,000 Karen people into Thai-Burmese border areas.

The targeted areas included Ler Per Her IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp, which was shelled by mortars, according to Burma Campaign UK.

A Karen refugee mother and her three children take shelter in a Buddhist temple on the Thai-Burmese border. (Photo: Alex Ellgee/The Irrawaddy)

The slow response from the international community, including the UN, has frustrated Burma’s human right activists. Also, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has yet to take significant steps to assist the refugees, leaving them leaving at the mercy of local aid groups.

Indeed, the way the most recent Karen refugees have been assisted by the international community raises questions about the effectiveness of the refugee system itself.

The global refugee regime is based on a structure and philosophy that stems from the International Refugee Organization, the predecessor institution that provided the template for the UNHCR. As such, the current refugee system essentially serves states’ interest rather than refugees’ interest.

In other words, the presence of refugees in general is considered a challenge to a state, and the UNHCR focuses on refugee containment and repatriation, rather than recognizing refugees’ rights to settle in a country of asylum or resettlement in a third country.

More broadly, the global refugee mission is to stabilize the world order composed of individual nation-states by containing refugee movements.

In this photo taken on June 9, released by Free Burma Rangers, Karen villagers flee in the rain from the fighting between Burmese soldiers and Karen guerrillas into Thailand’s Tha Song Yag district of Tak province. (Photo: AP/Free Burma Rangers)

This philosophy is reflected in a 1993 statement by Sadako Ogata, the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Her point, which still holds true today was that, “The subject of refugees and displaced people is high on the list of international concerns today not only because of its humanitarian significance, but also because of its impact on peace, security and stability. The world cannot reach a new order without effectively addressing the problem of human displacement.”

The commissioner, significantly, describes refugees as a “problem” that destabilizes the world order. Solving the “problem” is for the ultimate purpose of the security of that order.

The painful irony is that it is this same world order with so-called sovereign nation-states that generates so many of the refugees in the world today.

Mostly minority and marginalized populations, such as the Karen, are driven out of their homes after being treated as “enemies” by a military regime that has autonomous control of the state apparatus.

While recent attacks are difficult to frame in terms of Burmese versus Karen, given the collusion of the DKBA with regime forces, it is clear that this is a struggle over economic resources as well as geographical control. Still, this is just one incident in the political hang-over of the sovereign state system that the UNHCR is mandated to protect.

In any case, Karen refugees are byproducts of a political struggle versus state oppression. Yet, the UNHCR is mandated to handle the plight of the Karen through charity work in its role as a purely humanitarian, yet “non-political,” institution. This allows the UNHCR to refrain from engagement over political issues that otherwise would implicate it in issues of sovereignty.

In addition to overriding philosophical issues, the UNHCR’s protection practices also raise problematic questions. For example, its provision of providing only minimum assistance to refugees while assuming that providing maximum assistance would attract more refugees.

In addition, there has been a recent shift towards a so-called “preventive protection” stance under a rubric of “the right to remain at home.” This is designed to prevent refugees from seeking refuge across a border by providing “safety zones” within conflict areas.

Ler Per Her IDP camp, which was shelled last week, is part of this strategy of “preventive protection,” which shows the fallibility of so-called “safety zones.”

The UNHCR humanitarian work cannot be isolated from a donor country’s domestic immigration policy.

That the first strategy of donor countries is to prevent refugees from resettling abroad is clearly reflected in the EU Presidency’s Declaration on Karen villagers, dated June 11, 2009, which said, “The EU reiterates its commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Burma/Myanmar. The EU calls instead for the conditions to be created that allow the return of all refugees.”

Here, insistence on “return” in theory can serve as a quick-fix but it can ignore the actual experiences and fate of refugees in much of the world, including the Karen refugees in Thailand. Seeing refugees as temporarily displaced people can serve to sentence millions of people to a life in refugee camps, supposing that they will eventually “return” to their country.

For example, Kitty McKinsey, a regional spokesperson for the UNHCR, told Spectrum magazine in an interview on the most recent wave of displaced Karen villagers, “They all say they want go back as soon as possible.” A UN spokesperson in Geneva, William Spindler, expressed a similar view.

It is understood that refugees miss their home like everyone else, but UNHCR is wrong to insist on that as a core interpretation of policy. It knows from experience that refugees often end up living in refugee centers for decades.

It should go without saying that refugees, including new arrivals, should be entitled to earn a living outside refugee camps, rather than being locked up inside, only to be turned into a modern version of “white men’s (and women’s) burdens.”

Yet, highlighting such problems with UNHCR role, we can not its role in saving people’s lives in emergency situation and providing life-sustaining aid. Neither is this to discount its heroic staffers in the field who are fighting hard for refugee rights.

Field staffers, as well as executive officers, are in a position to critically reflect on UNHCR’s limitations. Rather than reproducing UNHCR’s “depoliticized humanitarianism,” progressive members and staffers should move beyond technical-centrism and emergency management mentality to address the disruptive aspects of the nation-state system as it now exists.

Similarly, critiques of donor countries do not underplay the thousands of former refugees who are now able to earn livelihoods in these countries. Yet, donor countries that are able to effectively supplement their domestic labor force with immigrant labor must do other than part in dealing fairly with refugees who fleeing from war with little hope of stability in their lives.

Brief Situation Report-2009 of Rohingya Refugees in Malaysia On the occasion of World Refugee Day

 Brief Situation Report of Rohingya Refugees in Malaysia

 On the occasion


World Refugee Day

Compiled by:

Habibur Rahman

 Edited by:

Mohammad Sadek

 Published by:


   (ARRC is a leading Rohingya Refugee Committee, dedicated to advocate the causes of refugees and asylum seekers)

PO Box-11882, 50760 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia E-mail:    Blog: 

© Copy Rights: ARRC

Copying and distribution of the Report for the Wellbeing of Rohingya Refugees is allowed.



This report was compiled by Habibur Rahman, the General Coordinator of ARRC, and was edited by Mohammad Sadek, the Program Coordinator of ARRC, while special review was performed by Muhammad Saifullah, the youth activities and education Training Affairs Secretary of the National Democratic Party for Human Rights (NDPHR) exile, South East Asia Regional Office.

This report was encouraged by area based Rohingya Refug Communities in Malaysia and overseas Rohingya organizations and representatives, especially Kyaw Soe Aung the General Secretary of NDPHR (exile) USA Headquarter, with an aim to advocate the plight of forgotten Rohingya refugees in Malaysia to get equal access in every quarter including their resettlement  to third countries to find permanent solution.

ARRC Coordinating Committee expects that the Rohingya refugees may extend their helpful hands to serve the causes of their Rohingya both in home and exile, if they were resettled in third countries that based on situation prefer.

 Coordinating Committee

Arakan Rohingya Refugee Committee (ARRC)


 Dated: June 12, 2009

Brief Situation Report of Rohingya Refugees in Malaysia 

On the occasion of World Refugee Day 2009


Rohingya refugee who took refuge in Malaysia for years, fallen into legal limbo as they are accessed unlike other refugees. The UN Refugee Agency practices prioritization towards non-Rohingya refugees, while Muslims refugees are stunted as prima-facie refugees. Exploitation of Rohingya refugees with verbal tasks is going on for the result of continuous engagements of so-called implementation partners.[[1]]

In general, neither they are protected on close ground nor insisted under UNHCR mandate. Resettlement for decade based Rohingya refugees is yet to be referred; the host therefore, gave two options whether repatriation or resettlement.[[2]]

Office instantly registered about 30,000 of non-Rohingya refugees and resettled 6,000 to signatory countries in a year (2008), where no significant numbers of Rohingya refugees were included in both processes. [[3]] Significantly, this 30,000 is double larger group than present number of Rohingya refugees in Malaysia, while Rohingyas are untruly defined as a large group. Although repatriation is not yet suggested for them, policies[[4]] show discriminative and tension of instigative is bringing amongst refugees.


Rohingya refugees were categorized to recognize as prima-facie refugees and thus not issued mandated refugee card. They are also recognized as illegal immigrants by Malaysian authorities within the boundary of its Immigration Act and legislation. They have already reached to 3rd generation without any legal status under any legislation for the results of disposing of Rohingya refugees into non-signatory country, Malaysia.

UNHCR Policy towards Rohingya Refugees:

Photo: ARRC, Security guards put pressure and awaiting outside UNHCR compound)

Photo: ARRC, Security guards put pressure and awaiting outside UNHCR compound)

As for the overall strategy, in cooperation with the Government of Malaysia, UNHCR is promoting and supporting group based temporary solutions in respect of the Rohingya Muslim population from Myanmar and persons of concern from the Indonesian Province of Aceh, based on their links to Malaysia. For all other persons of concern, who are categorized as in need of international protection those who have no links to Malaysia, UNHCR is working on resettlement solutions in third countries[[5]].

UNHCR officials have come to say something to the Rohingya refugees that both party need to have trust building process in order to reduce misunderstanding between each of UNHCR and Rohingya refugees [[6]], but some staffs say, Rohingyas are not considered in vulnerable group who do not know to deal with UNHCR professionally[[7]], when a group of Rohingya refugee representatives approach to the office gate to submit an open letter to the office. During this time, one[[8]] of the staffs wanted to apply Internal Security Act (ISA)[[9]] against refugees with a view to disperse group representation which denied by responsible UNHCR official.

In most cases, where UNHCR intervened to stop deportation proceedings, the authorities respected the principle of non-refoulement[[10]]. But UNHCR try utmost to maintain silence on the matter of Rohingya refugee detainees with a view to draw attention of Malaysian authorities to gain sympathy for refugees. Anyway, the Government authorities do not care on the issue in respect of Malaysian Laws and regulations.

Sometimes, UNHCR Malaysian staffs forced the Rohingyas in detention camps to accept voluntary deportation to Thailand for early release but never afforded any financial assistance to return from border or to pay agent fees[[11]].

Treatment in UNHCR Office:

(Photo: ARRC, poor Rohingya refugees are hiding over roadside to escape beating of security guard at UNHCR)

(Photo: ARRC, poor Rohingya refugees are hiding over roadside to escape beating of security guard at UNHCR)

The Rohingya refugees are the worst victims of discriminations and marginalization[[12]] at the UNHCR office. UNHCR does not allow Rohingya refugee to enter UNHCR compound without fixed appointment. Those who do not leave UNHCR premise without response are handed over to police.[[13]] Those who managed to enter, were kept sitting up to 5:00 PM. During the time of interview, refugees are threatened by UNHCR Staff. Sometimes, staffs engage interpreter to have talks with applicants to proceed under table payment for UNHCR services[[14]].

Photo: ARRC, beaten up and torn up the shirt by UNHCR Security Guard, police report available)

Photo: ARRC, beaten up and torn up the shirt by UNHCR Security Guard, police report available)

Sometimes, Rohingya refugees are forcefully returned, ignoring their problems by the security guards as per the suggestion of UNHCR officials. In some occasions, guards also beat up[[15]] the Rohingya refugees with various kinds of verbal abuses. Tensions between UNHCR local staffs and Rohingya refugees are likely increased since some office staffs were terminated.[[16]]

 It is obvious that the agency has stopped the registration of Rohingya refugees from early (Irani Refugee Committed Suicide in 2004)2006, saying that Malaysia is keen to provide temporary shelter for Rohingya because of their religious belief, as signatory countries are non-Muslims.


                                                        (Irani Refugee Committed Suicide in 2004)


  Background information about Malaysia’s stance:

Malaysia is not a signatory to 1951 Convention Relating to the status of Refugees/ 1967 Protocol and has no constitutional, legislative or administrative provisions dealing with the right to seek asylum or the protection of refugees. Despite acceding to the Convention on the Rights of Child (with 8 reservations) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), none of the articles potentially relevant to refugees or asylums seekers in these treaties have been the subject of enabling legislation or administrative practice.

Any person who enters or remains in Malaysia illegally is liable to prosecution under the Immigration Act 1959/63 (Act 155), which may result in indefinite detention without judicial scrutiny, corporal punishment in the form of whipping with a Rotan[[17]] cane across the buttocks or back, fine and deportation. The vast majority of persons of concerns fall into the category of “illegal immigrants” under Malaysian Laws, which provides no legal method to differentiate those in need of international protection from other migrants. Thus, asylum seekers and refugees alike are at constant risks of arrest, detention, prosecution, imprisonment, caning and deportation; some cases are resulted in refoulement in the past.

Policy of Malaysian Government:

Government of Malaysia does not recognize refugee or political asylum in the country. It is allowing refugees to stay in Malaysia on humanitarian ground that only to let them chance to resettle in third country, while the agency is allowed to tackle its refugees and asylum seekers or persons of concern.

Relating to Rohingya refugees, Malaysia announced to issue IMM-13[[18]] in the year 2004 to find an alternative solution for them as they are denied by Burmese authority and thus try to encourage UNHCR to provide temporary protection card as refugees, who later may get chance for resettlement in third countries or to collect data of these people to repatriate them to Burma, when the government manage to agree with regime.

Treatment of Refugees and Asylum Seekers:

There were periodic reports of ill treatment of undocumented migrant workers and asylum seekers in detention camps and during deportation. Conditions in detention camps, including the provision of adequate medical care, food and clean water, failed to meet international standards. Fears that conditions could worsen due to increased overcrowding mounted after the government announced plans in July to arrest and deport over 1.2 million suspected illegal immigrants by the end of 2005. Concerned about the planned mass deportations included the lack of fair individual assessment procedures for detained migrants, serious weaknesses in fair trial safeguard for those prosecuted under the immigration Act, and inadequate protection for more vulnerable detainees, including women and children [[19]].

Very visible prosecutions are going against Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers as in most cases, UNHCR do not intervene to get release of Rohingya with an implication of their links with Malay people on their religious background.

Since early 2006, UNHCR has stopped registering of Rohingya refugees with a view to reduce refugee populations or to find temporary settlement in Malaysia in aversion their race and religion in the office. Following this, tens of thousands of Rohingya have live without any document in Malaysia for who no effective advocacy group is found yet, beside some self benefiting NGOs using the cases of Rohingyas.

Since March 2005, the Attorney General started prosecuting refugees who are detained based on offences under the Immigration Act.


Following the announcement of Malaysia about Imm-13 (temporary visit pass or work permit) for Rohingyas, the UN Refugees’ Agency cutoff its supports and providing misinforming to the world to reduce paying attentions, as the agency is trying utmost to solve the problem by alternative way of absorbing them into Malaysia’s work forces.

Agency’s commitment through short term assistances to some vulnerable cases is not enough and most cases of widowers, handicappers, cripples, aged, are not fallen into its expectation.

The Malaysian government does not pay clear attention to the suffering situation of them and consider as like as illegal immigrants under its Immigration Act. The government also believes that the Rohingyas’ are person of concern to the UNHCR and waiting for resettlement in a 3rd country or UNHCR is only refugee agency in taking care of all possible responsibilities.

Casually, the problems of Rohingya refugees remain unsolved, usually therefore, the host’s frequently discuses for repatriation into origin of persecution.[[20]] As well as, the agency is keen to agree on such repatriation, rather than finding durable solution. [[21]]

Salient Points:

Arrest, Detention and Deportation:

Photo: ARRC-Visitor Entrance of Sungai Buloh Prison

Photo: ARRC-Visitor Entrance of Sungai Buloh Prison

Recognition as illegal can remove any time from its territory and removing under deportation act.[[22]] Therefore, refugees in Malaysia are subjected to untold sufferings. At least 300 refugees are arrested in a month, consisting of baby, children, pregnant women and women, sick, and aged. Instant fleeing into jungles and bribery and then reports of misbehaviors activities by Rela or authorities is continued.

Photo: ARRC: Raid killed a Rohingya in Salayang)

Photo: ARRC: Raid killed a Rohingya in Salayang)

Even though UNHCR card holders are not acquainted from punishment of cane whipping, their trial process are kept pending for UNHCR intervention which is longer period than illegal immigrants in order to prove undocumented refugees or/illegal immigrants to bring charges of imprisonment and punishment of cane whipping. They have to face charges, if no intervention is met from UNHCR.

Coercion reports of over crowding, malnutrition food and inappropriate drinking water proved inhumane treatments. Detainees also face threatening, routinely beating, separation from family. The detention camps are not accorded with international standard and no medical NGOs are accessed and thus continue or infected tuberculosis and mold as latest H1N1. The conditions were proved[[23]]  in local newspaper NST. And latest dead continue affects of H1N1 in Juru detention camp, Penang.[[24]]

In most cases, refugee detainees themselves come to agree constantly for deportation in order to escape from such horrific conditions.

According to the USCR Survey Report 2007, refugees who were detained would be met full interview and those passed were eligible for resettlement.[[25]] No reflection was made yet towards Rohingya refugee detainees until writing of the report. Rohingya refugees have no alternative way to get release from detention center or deport into other territory or Burma. So, they are officially handed over to human trafficking agents[[26]] after immigration received official withdrawal from UNHCR. Due to failure of legal intervention by its custodies, immigration also committed to take advantage on their conditions.

Compare to previous year, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has stopped the registration of Rohingya refugees from early 2006. And thus most of the victims are found Rohingya refugees in every quarter, while agency continued to provide services and to register non-Rohingya Burmese refugees under the term of vulnerability and no linkage with Malaysian society. Currently, hundreds of undocumented Rohingya refugees are kept pending for UNHCR intervention in various detention centers of Malaysia.


Rohingya children below 16 years are estimated to about 6,000 and out of 90% are engaged in collection of recycle materials[[27]] or child labor in Malaysia. The government does not have policy to accept any suggestion made by various local NGOs or Refugee Project holders including UNHCR’s refugee children in public schools.

Currently, UNHCR-Tzuchi[[28]] Education Center has opened 4 new informal education sectors for 233 Rohingya children but UNHCR is untruly claiming about 600,[[29]] while about 5,000 are still languishing in such circles. In fact, the Rohingya refugee children are deprived of recognized education, which does not bring hope for their future.

However, UNHCR had come to denote that 3,600 Rohingya refugee children in Malaysia, are not getting a basic education due to financial and bureaucratic obstacles.[[30]] The children need to learn how to read and write. They must know how to count. They must know science and geography. What future will our Rohingya children have without knowledge? More than 70% of Rohingya children are of school age.[[31]]

Being uneducated, the Rohingya refugees are not eligible [[32]] for resettlement, while other side say, UNHCR supports for education is to settle down the refugees in Malaysia and to make easier to access in public schooling. [[33]] In many occasions, UNHCR say, we give priority towards educated refugees[[34]] to resettle in USA.

UNHCR and implementation partners try to believe that refugee children will be allowed to go to public school if the refugees receive Imm-13. But, the government has repeated that the Imm-13 is not travel permit or permanent resident and it card holder children are allowed to learn in private sector only. Thus, today Imm-13 holder Sabah children are not allowed to go to public school [[35]] as well.


Photo: ARRC: - Govt. Hospital Registration Fee

Photo: ARRC: - Govt. Hospital Registration Fee

The Rohingya refugees are facing serious difficulties in getting medical facilities in every health center, clinic or hospital. For the matter of undocumented, they are completely gone into dire situation. UNHCR card holder refugees are given 50% offer by Malaysian Government but the rest 50% are charged as Europeans, comparatively different from regular fees.[[36]]

In many cases, although refugee themselves pay deposit for registration of medical treatment, but the sick refuges are handed over to authority for un-payable of the rest amount of 50%. Medication facilities go delay to prove referral from UNHCR.

Because of UNHCR’s intentional referral and medical officer’s confirmation, many cases of medications are remained incomplete, some lost their lives.

Perception is that medical expenses are unbearable for Rohingya refugee in their low income. Due to financial hardship, many Rohingyas are suffering psychological problems and malnutrition.

ACTS[[37]] has set up free clinic for refugees in Brickfield[[38]] area. However, it is quite a far from the Rohingya’s living area; and ACTS does not have good equipment to diagnosis diseases. Early proposals to set up free clinic in areas of Rohingya refugee resides, was putting in discussion only. [[39]]


Recently, numbers of recognized refugees or UNHCR card holders were expelled from their work sectors as their documents are not recognized by the Malaysian Government’s Legislation. As per the procedures, at least 25 UNHCR Card holding Rohingya refugees were shifted by immigration from a work sector of Nilai-2 on April 28, 2009. [[40]] Their arrest clarified that refugees are the genuine victims of illegal immigrants. [[41]]

(ARRC: 12 years of child is cleaning drainage)

(ARRC: 12 years of child is cleaning drainage)

According to Immigration Act, the employers are not free from charges for employing with UNHCR document holding refugees on the basis of understanding. This information is spread out in across the country. Following this, at least 50 Rohingya refugees were terminated from their work sector in Subang Lama and thus refugees are passing lives in fear and tear in finding sources of income for their survival.

 In all walks of the life of Rohingya refugees, victimization is continued as they cannot show any kinds of legal documents.

Living Condition:

A group of Rohinyga, hiding in jungle side to escape arrest)

A group of Rohinyga, hiding in jungle side to escape arrest)

Mostly, the Rohingyas face problem to rent house as they do not have legal document. Sometimes, house owners get warning from concerned authorities, for renting houses to illegal immigrants. Some, who managed to rent a house, bring numbers of Rohingya refugees to stay together in congested rooms. Rohingyas also need to pay fees to broker to arrange rental house.

In many occasions, the Rohingya refugees try to house in jungle side, but reluctant to show their houses in dirty place to prove their civilization.

Social Condition:

(PHOTO: Habib: beaten up by locals, Rohingya still in coma for more than 9 months)

(PHOTO: Habib: beaten up by locals, Rohingya still in coma for more than 9 months)

The Rohingya refugees have to maintain their sociality separately as local do not recognize them or authority do not allow them to practice their culture and tradition.

Although, Rohingyas are Muslim by religion, their marriage registrations are kept behind the bar with a view to a distinct role between locals and foreigners.

Sometimes, hospital authority hands over new born child to immigration for their failure to pay hospital bills or show legal passport. It is true that many local staffs do not interest to provide service for Rohingya refugees in hospitals. Such mothers also face annihilation for taking child in refugee life. [[42]]

(PHOTO: ARRC: A Rohingya asks for rights)

(PHOTO: ARRC: A Rohingya asks for rights)

Besides, Rohingya refugees are not free from the attacks of goons. Often robe, beat up[[43]], hijacked[[44]] and even extort money without any condition.

Mohammed Salim, son of Osman Gani, a recognized Rohingya refugee of UNHCR was handed over to police by UNHCR staff as whilst he was awaiting to get response from official for his appeal of protection and humanitarian assistance, after escaping from assassination.


After detail studies about the situation of Roghingya Refugees in Malaysia, note able recommendation has come to find a permanent solution, resettling them to third countries because the Rohingya are not wanted in South East Asia by the influence of Burmese military regime in ASEAN nation.

There is no confusion over this report as the organization done comprehensive research which is totally true from the right angel and the concerned refugee quarters would take appropriate measures to have an independent investigation to the issue in order to strengthened security measure for the Rohingya refugee under international protection Standard.

Raymond Hall, UNHCR Regional Coordinator for Asia has summed up the terrible plight of Rohingya refugees.[[45]]


To the Government of Malaysia:

  • To take step to advocate the plights of Rohingya to the world in order to reduce refugee phenomena in Malaysia through equal burden sharing under their resettlement to third countries;
  •  To ensure the protection and human dignity of Rohingya refugees as they are the worst victim of human rights violations;
  • To address the plight of Rohingya refugees in every regional event, particularly in ASEAN, while mounting pressure on Burmese military regime for urgent democratization in the country.

To United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR):

  • To regularize new registration of undocumented Rohingya refugees without further delay as it recommended by various human rights and refugee concerned quarters which is not yet taken step by frontier UNHCR;
  • To immediately and unconditionally remove the marginalization of Rohingya refugees and to speed up steps to ensure refugee rights for Rohingya refugees;
  • To schedule the cases of Rohingya refugees for resettlement to third country as equal as other non-Rohingya refugees in every quota;
  • To ensure the protection and human dignity for Rohingya refugees, extending more effective and international protection mechanism;
  • To strengthen appropriate relationship with Arakan Rohingya refugee Committee (ARRC), the only dedicated refugee organization to create actual working environment for the welfare of Rohingya refugees in finding permanent solution for their long standing problems;
  • To cease all kinds of hypocrisy and misconducts of office staffs and staff members of implementation partners in getting funds and its utilizations with planned way theories.

To the international Community:

  • Appeal to put pressure on Burmese military regime to have democratic changes in the country , starting from freeing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners including U Kyaw Min (a) Mr. Shamsul Anwarul Haque, the leader of Rohingya ethnic minority, MP of National Democratic Party for Human Rights (NDPHR) and member of Committee Representing for People’s Parliament (CRPP);
  • To increase supports and assistances for Rohingyas in all over the world is in general and to liberate Rohingya refugees from Malaysia with appropriate measures is in particular;
  • To make space in resettlement quotas for Rohingya refugees in Malaysia;
  • To set up effective mechanism to investigate misconducts and abuse of UNHCR in Malaysia and bring the staffs into account for necessary action that only to keep the UN Agency’s efficiency and transparency;
  • To accept/recognize the representation of Arakan Rohingya Refugee Committee (ARRC) to every quarter in finding permanent solution for the long-standing plight of Rohingyas.

Thank you

Coordinating Committee

Arakan Rohingya Refugee Committee (ARRC), Malaysia

 Dated: June 12, 2009

[1] In the 3rdmeeting on March 19, 2009, new protection officer of UNHCR Mr. Alvin Gosaga quoted that resettlement is not depend on proposal of refugees, Representative or UNHCR but depend on stakeholder parties. Therefore, implementation partners were accused in engaging of temporary solution for Rohingya refugees.

[2] The Star, on April 9, 2009, Malaysia.

[3] Note from the speech of Mr. Alan Vernon, new representative of UNHCR Malaysia at Selangor Kuala Lumpur Chinese Assembly Hall, on February 13, 2009 and The Daily Malay Mail, Spotlight on Plight of Refugees on Feb.23, 2009, p-11.

[4] The policies continued to resettle non-Rohingya refugees who are able go back to home country without fear as they are recognized as national ethnic groups.

[5] UNHCR Kuala Lumpur, 31 March 2005: UNHCR’s view on the concept of effective protection as it relates to Malaysia.

[6] Note from Mr. Alan Vernon, New Representative of UNHCR’s speech on February 13, 2009 at Selangor Kuala Lumpur Chinese Assembly Hall.

[7] Outgoing Protection officer Ms. Cecile Fradot spoke to refugee representative over telephone in front of Royal Malaysian police and Special Brach on 25 February 2009. She rarely excuse for problems, faced by Rohingya refugees in the past at various meetings with Rohingya refugee representatives.

[8] Haji Ibrahim Mohammed Amin, the current security officer of UNHCR who served in Bukit Aman (Malaysian) Police asked duty officer of police to apply ISA against Rohingya refugees.

[9] ISA is a law that applies for the security of country; particularly the act was applied against communist in 1970s and against the movement of oppositions in the recent year.

[10] Abid UNHCR’s view …p-1.

[11] Salim Ullah, 15 years of Rohingya refugee said, who was detained for 3 times in Malaysia. Every time, he was encouraged by UNHCR Malaysian staff to volunteer it, and that way, he was repeatedly victimized by policy of UNHCR.

[12] Mr. Stephen Smith, the Foreign Minister of Australia, seriously concerned about marginalization Rohingya in Bali Process on 14-15 April 2009, The Brisbane Times, 15/4/2009.

[13] Mr. Mohammed Salim, who was victimized by local goon, approached to UNHCR and waited to get swift response but official handed over to police to take action under police act. Police set free him from Brickfield police station, while he explained his odds and vulnerabilities.

[14] Mr. Abdullah (not real name), an old Rohingya refugee confirmed to Arakan Rohingya Refugee Committee (ARRC) that interpreter needs money to make successful application of financial assistance.

[15] The Sail, April 15, 2009

[16] A local male staff from Field Service Team (FST), [currently removed the unit], was terminated in the end of December 2008; and a female staff from Refugee Status Determination Unit, was terminated in early January 2009 with corruption reports and misconducts.

[17] As per the Holy Quran and Hadith, apply for illegal intercourse between boy and girl without getting marriage.

[18] IMM-13 is a temporary visit pass. It does not entitle the permission to work, or to become permanent resident/citizen in Malaysia. It holders are being displaced and wrangled for many times in Sabah State.

[19] Malaysia: Annual Report Entry-May 2005, Amnesty International Malaysia, Power by Journal, generated on January 27, 2007.

[20] Sinar Harian on April 9, 2009.

[21] Refugees are not always able to return safely home or to remain in the country where they received asylum. There are situation in which resettlement to a third country the only safe and viable durable solution for refugees: (Refugee Resettlement Watch).

[22] A letter of Immigration Ref: IM101/HQ-E(S)/803/09/15/08, p-1.

[23] The New Straight Times, dated September 23, 2008.

[24] The Star, May 29, 2009

[25] US Committee for Refugee Survey Report 2007, published in The New Fortune Monthly, August 2008, Vol. 1, Issue-2, Kuala Lumpur..

[26] Millennia Muslim Magazine, January 2008.

[27] The New Fortune Monthly, Vol.1, Issue.4, October 2008

[28] Taiwan Buddhist Tzuchi Foundation, an implementing partner of UNHCR, is running 4 informal sectors from January 2008. The Burmese pro-democracy opposition groups feel upset for the services of China in strengthening Burmese military regime, while UNHCR is merely assigning it as agency’s partner.

[29] Noted from the statement of Ms. Ellie Al Daqqa, the head of UNHCR Community Development Unit, shows so-called sympathy over Muslim and her encouragement brings to a model of conspiracy.

[30] UNHCR article written by Yante Ismail: Hope for Malaysia’s home learning Rohingya refugees? http://, dated 14 July 2006.

[31] Abid, UNHCR article, dated 14 July 2006.

[32] Abdullah (not real name) who applied for resettlement to UNHCR was replied by Ms. Zakiah, a Local staff for UNHCR resettlement Unit. It is clear that uneducated are misinformed, while educated are accused of emotional access.

[33] Outgoing protection officer Ms. Cecile Fradot, said in a meeting of Migrant Working Group on 22-24 September 2008.

[34] Uneducated are misinformed, while educated are accused of emotional access.

[35] A local NGO called Berneo Chid Aid Society, provides basic school facility to Pilipino refugee children in Sabah but fail to get admission in public schools.

[36] Malaysian locals have to pay RM 1, but the Rohingyas have to pay RM 25, if the person holds UNHCR ID Card. In case of UNHCR Paper or undocumented, has to pay RM 50 without any condition.

[37] Kampulan ACTS Sdn Bhd is a local NGO which is an implementing partner of UNHCR for medical facilities.

[38] Brickfield a place, situated in Southern Part of Kuala Lumpur, where mostly non Rohingya refugees reside. Non-Rohingya coordinators are engage for every facility who often underestimates the Rohingyas.

[39] UNHCR and NGOs do not pay attention to the needs of health services for Rohingya. Some say, donation comes from non-Muslim groups, so need to give priority to donors proposal. Rohingya should approach Malay society or Mosques to get such facilities.

[40] The Sail, a web blog http//

[41] Ms. Siti Rohizah, a mother of 13-months old child and Rohingya refugee, reported to ARRC on 8-6-2009 that her husband together with 10 others were arrested from KNM project in Kuantan, when they were searching for livelihoods for themselves and family members, are being detained in Kemayan camp. Basically, UNHCR or any other quarter do not provide foods and shelter for any refugees in Malaysia. So, the poor lady is struggling to alive with her innocent child.

[42] Authorities think that refugee women might not be practice mother nature, while men would not get marriage or /…..

[43] The Sail,

[44] Abid.

[45] Gred Trode, “No home, littile hope,” South China Morning Post, March 10, 2009 and Human Right Watch report “Perilous Plight” dated May 26, 2009.


The 300,000 Rohingyas in Saudi are in limbo

9th June 2009, source from
The Rohingya are Muslim citizens of Burma/Myanmar, persecuted and disowned by their country of origin, leaving them in a situation of “statelessness”. As their place of origin is along the Burma/Myanmar-Bangladesh border, many now live in Bangladesh but have not been granted Bangladesh citizenship – and a fraction of the number there moved to Malaysia, as estimates show about 12,000 Rohingya in Malaysia, some of whom are said to have resided here for more than 10 years. But the government has made very little effort to find a constructive solution to the problem.

300,000 Rohingyas sought refuge in Saudi Arabia. They are sometimes the forgotten Muslims when the world is turning to Palestinians and Iraqis.

The Rohingya’s lives in limbo

Wael Mahdi, Foreign Correspondent



Burmese Muslims selling fruit from carts in Al Nakassa slum area in Mecca, a city that is home to some 250,000 Rohingya. Khidir Al Zahrani for The National

JEDDAH // Myanmar’s Rohingya ethnic group, a Muslim minority in the predominantly Buddhist country, are described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted groups of people in the world. Each year thousands flee the country for Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Middle East.

Many of the Rohingya have sought refuge in Saudi Arabia. Today there is a community of about 300,000 there.

“I can’t go back to Myanmar; I’ve never seen Arakan, where my family grew, with my own eyes. I have no relatives there and my children know nothing about their country anymore,” said Sheikh Noor Al Zubair Shams al Haq, at the Al Rusaifah District community centre in Mecca where the Rohingyans conducts meetings and gatherings.

Mr al Haq, who has lived in Saudi Arabia for nearly 50 years, is one of the kingdom’s Burmese Muslim refugees. The community is caught in a decades-long limbo, unable to return to what was once their homeland and condemned to languish on the peripheries of their adopted society.

Next year will be a significant one for Saudi’s Rohingya as one of their most prominent leaders and advocates, Sheikh Abu al Shamaa Abdul Majid, is set to retire from the Muslim World League in Mecca, where he has worked since 1980. His residency permit will be revoked upon his retirement and he may be forced to leave the kingdom.

Mr Abdul Majid, 57, and many other Saudi Burmese who cannot renew their residency permits, are now waiting for the Saudi government to grant them special permits by royal decree or a direct order from the minister of interior that will allow them to stay in the country legally.

The Rohingya must meet strict requirements to be considered legal residents. While the earliest Rohingya refugees were granted citizenship, those born in the kingdom after 1972 were not. Most of them were given passports by the sympathetic governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh but were required to find work sponsors to live legally in Saudi, which many Rohingya have not been able to maintain.

Mr Abdul Majid believes many of the Burmese in the kingdom would like to return to their country if the government recognised stateless Muslims as a minority and gave them citizenship.

Yet he knows that many others who were born and raised in Saudi Arabia will not leave what has become their home.

“Rohingya can’t go back to Myanmar simply because the majority were born in Saudi and have no roots there,” said Sheikh Abdullah Marouf, a young leader of the community who was born in Saudi and cannot speak the Rohingyan language fluently.

A study conducted in 2007 by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute of Hajj Research in Mecca showed that 74 per cent of Saudi’s Rohingya would refuse to return to Myanmar under any circumstances, 12 per cent declined to answer and 14 per cent said they would go back only under very specific conditions.

Mr Marouf said those conditions include the right to full citizenship, the right to practise Islam publicly and the return of their properties that were confiscated by the military regimes that have ruled the country almost exclusively since the 1960s.

Last year the governor of the Mecca region, Prince Khalid Al Faisal, announced that King Abdullah had approved a plan to grant legal-resident status to immigrants in Mecca region, where 98 per cent of Burmese in the kingdom live.

Prince Faisal did not name a particular ethnic group in his announcement, but he said the government would grant resident status to “those who fled to protect their religion and the Kingdom accepted them because of religious oppression in their homeland”.

No further news has been issued on the plan and Maj Gen Mansour Al Turki, the interior ministry spokesman, declined to comment on its latest developments.

According to the official website of the Burmese community in Saudi, the first Rohingyan immigrants arrived in the kingdom in 1948, entering on foot from neighbouring Yemen and Jordan. The state gave them legal stay permits and some were granted Saudi nationality.

Mr Abdul Majid’s family moved to Saudi in 1954, two years after he was born, and was granted legal resident status as it was among the first Burmese groups to arrive. But a decree issued two decades later forced Rohingya older than 18 who were not born in the kingdom to obtain a non-Saudi passport.

Only about 2,000 of Saudi’s Rohingya have citizenship. Without residency permits, their children cannot enrol in public schools. Mr Abdul Majid said Burmese children attend charity schools created for the community by Saudi donors and wealthy Burmese.

The Rohingya, thought to be descendants of 7th century Arab settlers, unsuccessfully agitated for Arakan to become part of East Pakistan as the British left India. They were declared “non-natives” by the Buddhist regime and mass killings followed. Thousands fled the country and hundreds of thousands more fled in the 1970s and 1990s after the junta launched military operations against the group.

Since it came to power in a violent coup in 1962, Myanmar’s military dictatorship has imprisoned and mistreated many of its people, regardless of their ethnicity or faith. The Rohingya, however, have been singled out for especially cruel treatment.

Reports released by the human rights group Amnesty International showed that Rohingya still living in Myanmar suffer serious human rights violations including forced labour, forced eviction, land confiscation and severe restrictions on freedom of movement.

“Arakan became a huge jail for Muslims,” Salim Ullah Hussein Abdul Rahman, the president of the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation, who represents the Rohingya at the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said during a recent visit to Saudi Arabia.

“The international community didn’t pay much attention to us and the Muslim world is too busy with the Palestinian cause, although the Burmese Muslims in Arakan live in much worse conditions than Palestinians in Israel,” he said.

Next year, Myanmar is set to hold its first national elections in nearly 20 years and the democratic opposition has promised Mr Abdul Rahman that if elected, they will grant the Rohingya official minority status and allow them to return as citizens. But there is little optimism among the Rohingya of Saudi Arabia that the junta will concede their power.

Perilous Plight Of Rohingya: World Human Rights Watch

source from

Burma’s Rohingya Take to the Seas

Conditions for Rohingya Inside Burma
Burma’s Denial of Citizenship Rights to Rohingya
Thailand’s Culpability and a Flawed Policy of Deterrence
Ways Forward for Regional Governments


In late December 2008, several small boats packed with hundreds of people, mostly ethnic Rohingya Muslims from western Burma, many of them emaciated, landed in India’s Andaman Islands. Passengers told Indian authorities they had originally landed in Thailand, that Thai authorities held them for two days on a deserted island, and that they then towed them back out to sea, giving them only a few sacks of rice and a little water. Some told officials and doctors that while at sea they had been tortured by Burmese sailors who stopped their vessel.[1]

Sadly, this was not an unusual story. Rohingya, and other people fleeing Burma to escape oppression or to find a better life elsewhere, are a fact of life in Southeast Asia. What was different this time was that in January and February 2009 the plight of this group was captured on camera. The televised images of hundreds of men and boys crammed into rickety boats, gaunt, some of them bloodied, and expressing equal parts shock and surprise at having reached land were almost from another time. The pictures showed hundreds of Rohingya men lying head first in rows along the beach guarded by armed Thai authorities, including police, navy and national park service officials. Thai officials claimed later that their tactics were standard operating procedures for controlling large numbers of suspects, even though the approach appeared brutal to onlookers. 

Some of these graphic photographs of Rohingya detained by authorities on Thai tourist beaches were taken by foreign tourists. If not for the fortuitous presence of these foreigners, these stories may have remained little more than a rumor or even completely unknown. Images of the Rohingya on Thai beaches appeared first in the South China Morning Post, the BBC, and then on CNN.[2]

The international outcry about the treatment of the Rohingya in Thailand centered on Thailand’s callous “push-back” policy, which the new administration of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at first denied, then announced it would investigate. As international concern grew, more boats began arriving as part of the annual transit organized by smugglers, many of the passengers unaware of the events on Thailand’s coastline.  Ultimately, Thai officials blamed media distortion, saying that the Rohingya were economic migrants, not refugees, and that Thailand could not absorb the flow.[3] 

The Thai government dismissed proposals to set up temporary holding centers for the Rohingya to ascertain their status as refugees, asylum seekers, or undocumented migrants. It granted the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) only limited access to the hundreds of Rohingya in Thai custody. Thai authorities fined most for illegal entry, and prepared to send them back to Burma.[4] Rohingya fear being returned, given the likelihood that they will be harshly received by the Burmese authorities and vulnerable to arbitrary arrest as punishment for illegal exit from Burma, including imprisonment and fines, and being stricken from household registration lists.[5]Many of the men detained in January and February remain in custody in southern Thailand.

While the Rohingya finally gained international media and governmental attention, the reality is that this group was only the latest influx in an annual sailing season for people escaping poverty, misery, and rampant human rights violations in Burma and Bangladesh.[6] The Arakan Project, a Bangkok-based non-governmental organization, estimatesthat more than 6,000 men and boys have made the journey in dozens of fishing boats from Burma and Bangladesh since November 2008. Reports suggest that twice as many Rohingya are making the perilous journey than a year earlier.[7]

Recent media attention meant that instead of ignoring them as in the past, national leaders from the region announced that they would discuss the issue of the Rohingya “boat people” on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Thailand in late February 2009. A regional solution was clearly needed. Little was done by the regional grouping, however, except to postpone solutions until a meeting in April of the Bali Process for People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons, and Related Transnational Crime, a multilateral mechanism created in 2002 by Australia and Indonesia for increased cooperation between regional governments and law enforcement agencies on human trafficking and smuggling.

Instead of seeking real solutions, the Rohingya issue was relegated to a discussion outside the formal agenda. The only action agreed was an ad-hoc working group to discuss Rohingya movements at future meetings. The Burmese delegation, led by the National Police Chief, Brigadier-General Khin Ye, denied that the Rohingya were from Burma, prompting the foreign ministers of Australia, Indonesia and Bangladesh to criticize Burma’s State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) for the harsh treatment which caused them to flee.[8]

ASEAN’s failure to adequately address the issue reflected a long-standing disregard for the treatment of the Rohingya. The lack of urgency showed that the claims by Burma and many of its neighbors that the Rohingya pose a threat to national security are a smokescreen. For the countries involved, the Rohingya are a relatively minor case of unregulated human movement.

Raymond Hall, UNHCR regional coordinator for Asia, summed it up when he said that in terms of “generalized and systemic oppression of their most basic rights, the suffering of the Rohingya is about as bad as it gets. Other people in this situation often have homes they can return to, but for these people, they have nowhere they are welcome. That sense of home is being denied them. It is a terrible plight.”[9]

[1] A version of this report was originally published in Global Asia, vol.4, no.1, Spring 2009, pp.86-91.

[2] Larry Jagan, “Alleged abuse of refugees probed,” Bangkok Post, January 18, 2009; Ian Holliday, “Rohingya crisis a part of Myanmar’s ethnic strife,” South China Morning Post, February 9, 2009.

[3]Pradit Ruagdit and Acahara Ashayagachat, “Govt being pressured on Rohingya, says PM,” Bangkok Post, February 14, 2009.

[4]Aekarach Sattaburuth and Anucha Charoenpo, “Rohingya refugees fined for illegal entry,” Bangkok Post, January 29, 2009.

[5]“Desperate flight from unspeakable squalor,” International Herald Tribune, February 16, 2009; Medecines Sans Frontieres, “A Life of Fear with No Refuge: The Rohingya’s Struggle for Survival and Dignity,” MSF Field News, February 23, 2009, (accessed May 7, 2009).

[6]  Chris Lewa, “Asia’s new boat people,” Forced Migration Review, vol.30, April 2008, pp.40-42.

[7]Information compiled by Arakan Project, confidential updates from Chris Lewa, December 2008-March 2009. On file with Human Rights Watch.

[8]Tom Allard, “Rohingya not our problem, Burma tells Bali meeting,” Sydney-Morning Herald, April 16, 2009 (accessed May 7, 2009).

[9] Greg Torode, “No home, little hope,” South China Morning Post, March 10, 2009.


Conditions for Rohingya Inside Burma

The Rohingya come from Burma, but for many years have fled repression there to Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. In total, the Rohingya number about two million people. Approximately 800,000 remain in Burma, primarily in western Arakan State and Rangoon. About 200,000 live in Bangladesh, of which 30,000 live in squalid refugee camps. An estimated half million live in the Middle East as migrant workers, 50,000 in Malaysia, while others are scattered throughout the region. Some make it to Japan, while others attempt the long sea voyage to Australia. Primarily because the Burmese government denies them citizenship, most are stateless.[10]

Even in Burma’s dreadful human rights landscape, the ill-treatment of the Rohingya stands out. For decades they have borne the brunt of the military government’s brutal state-building policies. The Rohingya are descended from a mix of Arakanese Buddhists, Chittagonian Bengalis, and Arabic sea traders. They speak a dialect of Bengali, but one that is distinct from the Bengali spoken across the border in Bangladesh, and many urban Rohingya also speak Burmese. Centuries of coexistence with Arakanese Buddhists was bifurcated by British colonialism, when the boundaries of India and Burma were demarcated. As a result, the Rohingya became a people caught between states, with the majority situated in newly independent Burma in 1948.[11]

Burma’s treatment of its Muslim minority has generally been characterized by exclusion, neglect and scapegoating.[12] In the 1960s, the military-socialist regime of General Ne Win expelled hundreds of thousands of South Asians from Burma during its “Burmese Way to Socialism” nationalization program. Successive military governments have subjected Rohingya to particularly harsh treatment, possibly more than any other ethno-religious minority in Burma.[13]

In 1978, the Burmese army mounted a murderous “ethnic cleansing” campaign called Operation Dragon King (Naga Min) that drove more than 200,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh. After staying for a year in such squalid conditions that 10,000 of them died from starvation and disease because the Bangladeshi authorities withheld food aid, most of the survivors returned to Burma.[14]

In 1983 the Burmese government completed a nationwide census in which the Rohingya were not counted, rendering them stateless through exclusion. The 1982 Citizenship Act legalized this exclusion, creating two categories of people, full citizens of Burma, including most ethnic groups, and then “associate” citizens, such as the South Asian and Chinese minorities. The government disqualified the Rohingya from both groups because they could not prove their lineage as “associates” before 1948.[15]

In 1991, the Burmese army repeated its expulsion, driving more than a quarter million Rohingya out of Arakan State into Teknaf and Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh. The Burmese army killed hundreds as soldiers slashed and burned their way through villages to force them out. Bangladesh was hostile to the new refugees and herded them into squalid refugee settlements. In 1995 the Bangladesh government forced most of them back over the border in a UN-supported repatriation process, which was marked by excessive force, including killings, by Bangladeshi security forces and Burmese troops receiving the Rohingya.[16] In 1995, some of the returnees were granted Temporary Registration Cards (TRC), which gave them only limited rights to movement and employment in western Arakan.

The survivors of this experience, and the remaining Rohingya in Arakan State, have been largely kept alive by international humanitarian agencies such as UNHCR and the UN World Food Program (WFP). A stark indicator of living conditions in western Arakan State is contained in the WFP’s recent food security survey in Burma, where more than half of young boys and girls were seriously malnourished, and most households had no independent sources of food.[17] WFP Burma country director Chris Kaye said, “Economic hardship and chronic poverty prevents many thousands of people in north Rakhine (Arakan) State from gaining food security.”[18]

Abuses by the Burmese military exacerbate the chronic poverty. Religious repression is widespread, with the military destroying many mosques or ordering them to be emptied. Extrajudicial killings are common.[19] Forced labor and expropriation of property are a daily reality. The state orchestrates violence either directly, to force the Rohingya to leave, or foments discriminatory attitudes and practices whose ultimate aim is to push the Rohingya out. Rohingya must obtain permission for travel even between villages from local military units; this is often denied. This limits employment opportunities, education and trade.

Some Rohingya communities have been confined to the outskirts of SPDC constructed “new villages,” called Na Ta La (which stands for the SPDC’s Ministry for Development of Border Areas and National Races, which administers the new village projects). This allows the military to monitor the Rohingya and seize their land for military-connected business projects. An estimated 100 new villages have been set up in northwestern Arakan, predominately for ethnic Burmese and Arakanese settlers who are given seized land and property. Displaced Rohingya populations often have to live close to these villages to be monitored by the settlers, and reports of human rights violations by Na Ta La settlers against Rohingya are widespread.[20]

The SPDC’s restrictions on the Rohingya affect women and young girls in particular. Travel restrictions have a particularly onerous impact on young women seeking education and employment, because it limits their interface with the broader Burmese community and international relief agencies to seek livelihoods and schooling. For the past decade, the authorities have imposed marriage restrictions on Rohingya women, forcing them to seek permission from the local Na Sa Ka (border security force, composed of officials from several agencies, including the army, police, immigration and customs). This often results in extortion, bribery and long delays. Rohingya women who become pregnant out of wedlock also face harassment from the authorities. Since 2005, marriage licenses state that a Rohingya couple must not have more than two children. Rohingya women are routinely denied employment in government agencies as teachers, nurses or administrators.[21]

[10] The 1954 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons defines a stateless person as someone, “who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law.”

[11]Martin Smith, “The Muslim ‘Rohingya’ of Burma,” speech delivered at Burma Centrum Netherlands, December 11, 1995, copy on file with Human Rights Watch. See also the discussion “Rohingya” on New Mandala, February 14, 2009 (accessed May 7, 2009).

[12]Human Rights Watch, BurmaCrackdown on Burmese Muslims, July 2002,; Harry Priestly, “The Outsiders, The Irrawaddy, vol.14, no.1, January 2006, pp. 16-19.

[13]Moshe Yegar, Between Integration and Secession.The Muslim Communities of the Southern Phillipines, Southern Thailand, and Western Burma/Myanmar (Lexington Books, 2002), pp.19-72.

[14]Carl Grundy-Warr and Elaine Wong, “Sanctuary Under a Plastic Sheet: The Unresolved Problem of Rohingya Refugees,” IBRU Boundary and Security Bulletin, vol.5, no.3, Autumn 1997, pp.79-91.

[15]J.A. Berlie, The Burmanization of Myanmar’s Muslims (Bangkok:White Lotus Press, 2008.)

[16]Human Rights Watch/Asia, The Rohingya Muslims: Ending a Cycle of Exodus?, vol.8, no.8, September 1996. U.S. Committee for Refugees, “The Return of the Rohingya Refugees to Burma: Voluntary Repatriation or Refoulement?” Washington, DC, 1995.

[17]Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP), “Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission to Myanmar,” Rome, FAO and WFP, January 22, 2009.

[18]Jonathan Head, “What drives the Rohingya to sea?” BBC News, February 5, 2009  (accessed May 7, 2009).

[19]United Nations, “UN Human Rights Experts Call on Myanmar to Address Discrimination Against Members of Muslim Minority in North Rakhine State,” UN Press Release, April 2, 2007.

[20] Fayas Kapani, “Why SPDC sets up Natala villages in northern Arakan,” Kaladan News, April 24, 2009.

[21] Arakan Project, “Issues to be Raised Concerning the Situation of Stateless Rohingya Women in Myanmar (Burma),” Submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) for the examination of the combined 2nd and 3rd periodic state party reports (CEDAW/C/MMR/3), Geneva, October 2008.


Burma’s Denial of Citizenship Rights to Rohingya

Western Arakan State’s isolation and underdevelopment historically meant that few Rohingya were registered at birth, or had documentation proving any citizenship, and this problem persists. Their lack of citizenship continues today. The Rohingya are officially an alien and illegal community, not listed as one of the 135 recognized “ethnic nationalities” in Burma, and thus the majority of them are not entitled to national identity cards. Despite this, those who flee and are deported back to Burma are often imprisoned for leaving the country illegally. In their absence, their names are removed from Burma’s draconian household registration system that keeps track of people’s movements, and they are often handed stiff fines and jailed. This lack of legal status has provided cover to security forces to perpetrate routine abuses against them with impunity, particularly in western Burma, where the security forces are involved in pacification campaigns against the local population.

The SPDC did not publicly comment during the recent arrival of Rohingya on the coastlines of Thailand, India and Indonesia. Eventually, the military government announced that the Rohingya were not Burmese citizens and so the event had nothing to do with Burma, creating the false impression that the tragedy involved only Bangladeshis. At the time of the ASEAN summit in February, the SPDC announced that any “Bengali” who could prove that they were born in Burma could return.[22] The announcement was disingenuous because it is Burmese authorities themselves who have routinely denied Rohingya the necessary documentation to demonstrate their citizenship.[23] 

Discrimination against the Rohingya, though far from universally endorsed, runs deep in Burma.[24] The SPDC’s denial of legal status to Rohingya has considerable public support among ethnic Arakanese and other Burmese, and among some opposition and exile groups. Many Rohingya groups are routinely excluded from multilateral exile movements and meetings.[25] Some Arakanese Buddhists, who have been neighbors of Rohingya for centuries, routinely deny that the Rohingya even exist, claiming instead that they are Bengalis residing in Burma.

The legal limbo in which the Rohingya have long lived in Burma—and the view that they should not be treated as full members of society–are at times married to outright racism.  South Asians are derogatorily referred to as kala (foreigner) in Burma, but the Rohingya often are viewed as beneath even this level of disdain. This was starkly in evidence recently in a February 2009 letter from the Burmese Consul-General in Hong Kong, Ye Myint Aung, to his fellow heads of mission:

In reality, Rohingya are neither ‘Myanmar People’ nor Myanmar’s ethnic group. You will see in the photos that their complexion is ‘dark brown’. The complexion of Myanmar people is fair and soft, good looking as well… They are as ugly as ogres.[26]

Proclamations of the outsider status of the Rohingya also take the form of unsubstantiated assertions that the Rohingya are not loyal to Burma and pose a serious threat to Burma’s national security. While officials periodically raise such specters, history tells a different story. Since Burma’s independence, the majority of Rohingya have attempted to live quiet lives and enjoy the same rights as other Burmese citizens. While some Rohingya have taken up arms, they have never posed a serious threat to Burma’s territorial integrity. A short-lived Mujahid rebellion in the early 1950s in Arakan failed to attract widespread Rohingya support. Contemporary Rohingya armed resistance is small and militarily insignificant, as political and armed resistance groups are splintered and constantly bickering. Small numbers of Rohingya men who have reportedly traveled to the Middle East for terrorism training have evidently not returned with any jihadist designs. There has never been a Muslim-connected terrorism incident in Burma.[27]

Since the early 1990s, the militarization of western Burma has been dramatic, with a rise in the number of army battalions from 3 to 43, the biggest increase in the country.[28]The Burmese army uses the local population to maintain its presence, stealing food, appropriating land, and forcing civilians to build camps, excavate roads, and carry supplies.

The military-buildup has occurred in parallel with the need to safeguard massive infrastructure projects. In December 2008, the Chinese energy company PetroChina signed a 30-year lease with the Burmese to buy natural gas off the coast of western Arakan State, in the Shwe Gas field; the consortium involves Indian, Thai, South Korean, Chinese and Burmese interests. The gas will be transported across Burma to Yunnan province in China by pipeline, with a second pipeline running beside it that will transport crude oil from the Middle East. Although the majority of Rohingya communities are northwest of these planned pipeline routes, the increased troop presence has adversely impacted their already dismal existence.[29]

[22]Thanida Tansubhapol and Anucha Charoenpo, “Burma: We’ll take Bengali’s, not Rohingya,” Bangkok Post, February 28, 2009.

[23] When the SPDC benefits from treating Rohingya like citizens, it does. The Rohingya were granted the right to vote during the May 2008 constitutional referendum in Burma, with many granted temporary cards to allow them to cast a ballot. The SPDC claimed to have won 92 percent voter support our of a 98 percent voter turnout throughout Burma. This was yet another irregularity in a sham system of political reforms conducted by the military government. There are also plans to permit the Rohingya m to vote in the 2010 multiparty elections, although there has been official word on whether the right to vote will also entail a right to citizenship.

[24]  “Plain Speaking,” The Irrawaddy, vol.17, no.2, March-April 2009, pp.26-27.

[25]  Human Rights Watch interview with Rohingya asylum seeker, Tokyo, July 6, 2007.

[26]Letter from Ye Myint Aung, Consul General of Myanmar in Hong Kong, to heads of Mission, Consul Corps, Hong Kong and Macau SAR, February 9, 2009, copy on file with Human Rights Watch.

[27]As the Australian security analyst Andrew Selth has pointed out, Muslims in Burma are more likely to be terrorized by the Burmese military than to be terrorists. Andrew Selth, Burma’s Muslims. Terrorists or Terrorized? Canberra, Australian National University, Strategic and Defence Studies Center, Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence no.150, 2003.

[28]Network for Democracy and Development, “Civil and Military Administrative Echelon of State Peace and Development Council in Burma,” Mae Sot, Documentation and Research Department, NDD, May 2007.

[29]Hannah Beech, “The New Great Game,” Time Magazine, March 30, 2009, pp.28-31.


Thailand’s Culpability and a Flawed Policy of Deterrence

Thailand’s recent ill-treatment of the Rohingya migrants and asylum seekers is an unfortunate continuation of past policy. Steadily increasing numbers of Rohingya arriving in southern Thailand have sparked a deterrence policy that violates Thailand’s international legal obligations towards asylum seekers. In 2007, Thai authorities took into custody hundreds of Rohingya near Ranong in southern Thailand and sent them to a detention center further north in the Thai-Burma border town of Mae Sot. Soon after, over 80 detainees were forcibly returned to Burma in an area controlled by a pro-SPDC militia, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA).[30] The DKBA is notorious for its involvement in drug trafficking, illegal logging and extortion of migrant workers. Most of the rest could not afford to be smuggled home; many trickled back into Thailand and some were eventually trafficked to Malaysia.

Thailand claims the Rohingya are a threat to national security. Military officials routinely accuse Rohingya of being Muslim mercenaries masquerading as migrant workers, coming to Thailand to volunteer with southern Thai Muslim separatist militants. Royal Thai Navy Vice-Admiral Supot Prueska told reporters in 2007 that the authorities were “keeping a close watch on a group of Burmese Muslims called Rohingyas…(t)hey are not coming here to take up decent jobs, but only to help insurgents in the three provinces…(t)hese Rohingya mercenaries, aged between 20 and 40 have a violent past and were ready to take orders to do anything in exchange for money.”[31]

While some of the human and contraband smuggling networks are also involved in arms smuggling from Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, no Rohingya has ever been implicated in violent attacks in Thailand or linked with the armed separatist groups fighting in Thailand’s deep South.[32]

In early 2008, then Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej threatened to intern the Rohingya on a “desert island.”[33] In late December, Thai security forces used remote Ko Sai Deang (Red Sand Island) as a holding center for apprehended Rohingya before towing them out to sea.

In charge of the Rohingya security operation in early 2009 was Royal Thai Army officer Col. Manas Kongpan of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC). Five years earlier a Thai court had named Manas in an investigation of a massacre of Thai Muslims at the Krue Se mosque in April 2004. He was unapologetic about his unit’s treatment of the Rohingya, denying any harsh measures and saying Thailand’s policy was in line with international humanitarian practice. “The issue has become a scandal because of a newsman slandering the military and bad-mouthing Thailand,” he told the Bangkok Post.[34] Prime Minister Abhisit has announced an investigation, but past investigations into abuses against migrants and asylum seekers indicate there is little likelihood that responsible officers will be punished.

Malaysia is the preferred destination of Rohingya men looking for work. There is a thriving Rohingya community within the large Burmese population in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, yet all refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers live a precarious existence, fearful of Malaysian police and the “deputized citizens corps” militia called RELA (Ikatan Relawan Rakyat Malaysia), subjecting them to arbitrary arrests, beatings, and intimidation.[35]

In Indonesia, the nearly 400 Rohingya who arrived at Pulao Wei island off the coast of Sumatra appear to have won a temporary reprieve after Indonesia initially threatened to send them back to Burma.

Conditions in the remaining Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh have marginally improved in the past two years, but living standards are still primitive and options for resettlement slim. Thousands more Rohingya eke out a desperate survival around the Bangladesh coastline and border with Burma, with few options—too fearful to return to their own country and faced with little support from Bangladeshi authorities who refuse to register them as refugees or provide them with basic services. According to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), an NGO which has long provided aid to the Rohingya in Bangladesh, “It is an impossible choice—return and face imprisonment or try to settle on otherwise unwanted patches of land in a country that gives you no recognition.”[36]

In response to the intransigence of Burmese officials at the April 2009 Bali Process meeting, Bangladeshi foreign minister Dipu Moni refuted the claims that the Rohingya were not from Burma:

The Rohingyas are living in Myanmar (Burma) for centuries and many Rohingyas even held high posts in the Government of Myanmar. Just dropping names from population list would not make them anything other than an ethnic entity of Myanmar. Previous repatriation of quite a few hundred thousand Rohingyas and acceptance of the list of further 28,000 Rohingyas proved that they are very much part of the population of Myanmar. Bangladesh with its limited resources had done more than enough for the refugees from Myanmar over the last three decades. Myanmar must now take back its own people.[37]

Not all those men in the boats are Rohingya fleeing oppression. Some are ethnic Bengalis from Chittagong in Bangladesh blending in to get a job in Malaysia. For both Rohingya and Bengalis, the trip is extremely expensive: US$300 for the journey from the Burma or Bangladesh coast to southern Thailand and later another US$500-700 in smuggling fees. The average annual wage in Burma is less than US$300, although most Rohingya would earn well below this. The willingness to spend such large sums underscores the urgency Rohingya feel to escape Burma—and is further indication why countries receiving the Rohingya should allow the UNHCR to have access to them and offer protection as it tries to determine who is an asylum seeker or refugee.

[30]“Rohingya Refugees from Burma Mistreated in Bangladesh,” Human Rights Watch news release, March 26, 2007, (accessed May 7, 2009).

[31] Achadtaya Chuenniran, “Battling the Piracy Threat,” Bangkok Post, June 16, 2007; Najad Abdullahi, “Myanmar’s unwanted boat people,” Al Jazeera, February 11, 2009,  (accessed May 7, 2009).

[32] For a background to the smuggling networks on the Bangladesh-Burma border see, Willem van Schendel. “Guns and Gas in Southeast Asia: Transnational Flows in the Burma-Bangladesh Borderlands,” Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia, August 2006.

[33] “We’ll Put Rohingya on Desert Island: Thai PM,” The Irrawaddy, April 1, 2008. (accessed May 7, 2009).

[34]Achara Ashayagachat, “Victims of distortion?” Bangkok Post, February 14, 2009. Thai military and government officials, including Colonel Manat, defended the treatment of the Rohingya at a public seminar at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, February 13, 2009.

[35] Committee on Foreign Relations, “Trafficking and Extortion of Burmese Migrants in Malaysia and Southern Thailand,” United States Senate, April 3, 2009, pp.13-14; Human Rights Watch/Asia, Malaysia/Burma: Living in Limbo. Burmese Rohingya in Malaysia, vol.12, no.4 (C), August 2000; Alice Nah, “A regional solution for Rohingya,” Malaysian Insider, March 20, 2009.

[36] Medecins Sans Frontieres, “Nowhere to go: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh,” MSF Field News, August 30, 2009, and Refugees International, “Rohingya: Burma’s Forgotten Minority,” RI Field Report, December 19, 2008.

[37] “Myanmar requested to take back remaining Rohingya,” The New Nation, April 17, 2008 (accessed May 7, 2009).


Ways Forward for Regional Governments

It is time to stop calling the Rohingya a “forgotten people,” as many headlines have described them. They are a foresworn people. Because they have no constituency in the West and come from a strategic backwater, no one wants them, even though the world is well aware of their predicament. No government in the region or the West should deny their plight, which has been reported on over the past 20 years.[38] Their persecution has been a litany of horrors that the international community has been well aware of, but largely unwilling to address.

While Burma is primarily responsible for ensuring that the rights of Rohingya are respected, other Southeast Asian states are obligated to observe international law requirements in their treatment of refugees, asylum seekers, migrant workers, and stateless people. Ratifying and implementing the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness Conventions, and the 2000 Migrant Workers Convention would be a good start.[39] ASEAN’s collective failure to address the root causes of the flight of the Rohingya from Burma will ensure its continuation. The UN and concerned countries should press Burma, ASEAN countries, and Bangladesh to treat the Rohingya humanely. Western governments should offer greater humanitarian assistance so that poorer countries in the region do not have to bear the cost of providing basic needs. And they should treat Rohingya fairly in the lottery of refugee resettlement. 

[38] Elaine Pearson, “The Rohingya Test: Asean’s Human Rights Responsibilities,” The Nation, February 27, 2009; Medecins Sans Frontieres, “10 Years for the Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh: Past, Present and Future,” MSF-Holland, March 2002; Amnesty International, “Myanmar. The Rohingya Minority: Fundamental Rights Denied,” ASA 16/005/2004, May 18, 2004.

[39]UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Selected Reference Materials: Rescue at Sea, Maritime Interception and Stowaways, November 2006, (accessed May 7, 2009).



Following a visit by the UNHCR Commissioner António Guterres to Burma between March 7 and 12, it was agreed that, “current level of activities in northern Rakhine (Arakan) State does not correspond to the actual needs and a decision was taken to upgrade the programme with immediate effect.” The new program is focusing particularly on the areas of health, education, water and sanitation, agriculture and infrastructure to assist Rohingya returnees and other local communities in Northwestern Arakan State.[40] The Australian government pledged A$3.2 million to assist the Rohingya inside Burma.

This is an important initiative. But the main responsibility lies with the SPDC. No serious improvements will come until the Burmese government ends its persecution of the Rohingya. 

While changes in Burmese government policy and practices are the key to stemming the exodus of Rohingya and ending their perilous journeys across the Andaman Sea, where they fall prey to storms, lack of food and clean water, and traffickers, other states need to observe international legal requirements for their treatment of refugees, asylum seekers migrant workers, and stateless people. In particular, Human Rights Watch makes the following recommendations:

To the Government of Burma

  • Immediately recognize or grant citizenship to persons of Rohingya ethnicity on the same basis as others with genuine and effective links to Burma by reasons such as birth, residency or descent, and treat them as equal citizens under international and Burmese law.
  • Ensure Rohingya freedom of movement throughout Burma.
  • Provide Rohingya with the same access to identification papers as other Burmese citizens.
  • Reinstate Rohingya who return to Burma onto official household registration lists.
  • Allow United Nations and international humanitarian agencies access to Arakan State to provide needed humanitarian assistance, in particular to address food security and livelihood issues for the Rohingya.
  • Allow the international media and human rights organizations access to Arakan State to report on the human rights situation of the Rohingya.

To the Governments of Thailand, Bangladesh, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and Other Countries Reached by Rohingya Asylum Seekers

  • Press Burma to end abuses against the Rohingya and grant them full citizenship rights.
  • Do not force boatloads of Rohingya or others found in their territorial waters back out to sea.
  • End the forced return of the Rohingya to Burma. All returns to Burma should be voluntary. Provide at least temporary asylum to all Rohingya who are unwilling or unable to return and consider for resettlement to a third country for those with no prospects for local integration or repatriation. 
  • Grant UNHCR and humanitarian organizations full access to provide for the immediate needs of Rohingya.
  • Allow UNHCR full access to currently detained Rohingya and permit appropriate refugee status determination procedures to take place. 
  • Ratify and implement the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness Conventions, and the 2000 Migrant Workers Convention.
  • Incorporate the international refugee definition into domestic law and introduce asylum procedures consistent with international standards that will give asylum seekers a fair opportunity to present their claims and protect them while their refugee claims are pending. Grant rights to residence, documentation, and work.
  • In the absence of a domestic asylum procedure that enables Burmese to challenge the grounds for their deportation, end the practice of deporting Burmese without an opportunity for UNHCR to screen them to determine if they are asylum seekers or refugees.
  • Develop mechanisms to provide refugees with legal residency.

To the US, EU, Australia, Japan, and Other Concerned Countries

  • Press Burma to end abuses against the Rohingya and grant them full citizenship rights.
  • Press regional states to treat Rohingya who reach their territory humanely and to allow access to them by UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations.
  • Offer greater humanitarian assistance so that poorer countries in the region do not have to bear the cost of providing basic needs to the Rohingya.
  • Offer equal access to the Rohingya for refugee resettlement.

Previous Perilous PlightIntroductionConditions for Rohingya Inside BurmaBurma’s Denial of Citizenship Rights to RohingyaThailand’s Culpability and a Flawed Policy of …Ways Forward for Regional GovernmentsRecommendationsAcknowledgments Next[40]  “UNHCR to upgrade its mission in Myanmar,” UNHCR press release, March 12, 2009.



This report was written by David Mathieson, researcher in the Asia division, and was edited by Brad Adams, Asia director; Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director; James Ross, Legal & Policy director; and Joseph Saunders, deputy director in the Program office of Human Rights Watch.

Specialist review was performed by Bill Frelick, Refugees program director.

Production assistance was provided by Dominique Chambless, consultant in the Asia division; Grace Choi, publications director; Anna Lopriore, photo editor; and Fitzroy Hepkins, production manager.

A version of this report was originally published in Global Asia, (vol.4, no.1, Spring 2009, pp.86-91).

JOINT STATEMENT of Migrants from Burma Working In Thailand and Malaysia


Migrants from Burma Working In Thailand and Malaysia

June 9th 2009

We, migrants from Burma, live in a perpetual state of crisis and the global economic crisis is further adding to our difficult and sometimes desperate situation.

We,  migrants from Burma and migrant support groups, trade union leaders and human rights activists and lawyers from Thailand and Malaysia, met and discussed the impact of the global economic crisis on Burmese migrant workers at the 2nd Two Destinations One Origin Conference organized jointly by MAP Foundation (Thailand), Workers Hub for Change (WH4C) and Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia (NAMM).  We are concerned that Burmese migrants live in a perpetual state of crisis and that the  global economic crisis is further adding to their difficult and sometimes desperate situation. We therefore appeal to the governments of Malaysia, Thailand and the ASEAN on the following issues.

We are concerned that Thailand and Malaysia governments’ response to the situation of workers affected by the economic crisis has not been comprehensive and does not provide adequate protection for workers. Migrant workers are not even included in these programs and are thus expected to deal with the impact of the economic crisis by themselves.

We call on the Malaysian government to immediately stop the unjust, discriminatory and unconstitutional policy and practice, known as ‘Foreign Workers First Out’ (FWFO) principle. According to this policy migrant workers lose their jobs before local workers regardless of length of time in the job.

We call on Malaysia and Thailand to demand that all employers fulfill their contractual agreements with regard to all workers, including foreign workers. Employers must not use the economic crisis as an excuse to dismiss workers or close down factories without adequate notice to the workers. Mechanisms should be put in place to ensure that employers pay workers adequate and just compensation for any early termination of employment agreement.

The social protections provided during these times of economic crisis to retrenched workers which include payment of 50% of salary for six months in Thailand and re-training and new job placements in Malaysia should be extended to cover all workers including migrant workers.

We ask the governments to ensure that employers of migrant workers bear all the costs of employing migrant workers. Employers in Malaysia should not make deductions from migrants wages to cover the levy that employers have to pay. Employers in Thailand should not make deductions from migrants wages to cover the registration fee that employers have to pay. The only permissible deductions should be with regards to social security schemes for workers.

We are deeply concerned that all workers wages are falling below a living wage. For migrants the impact of a further reduction may have severe repercussions on the well-being of the workers  and their families in Burma who rely on these wages for survival and  for settling the debts incurred in the migration process.

Burmese migrants in both Malaysia and Thailand have reported accidents in the workplace due to the sub-standard occupational health and safety standards and enforcement. We call for the governments of Thailand and Malaysia to ensure that employers do not take shortcuts on matters concerning health and safety of workers and to facilitate migrants’ access to the legal mechanisms to receive compensation when accidents do occur. Migrants should also have the freedom of association.

Thailand and Malaysia’s health systems are trying to cope with new and different health issues such as H1NI, Chirkungya, Leptospirosis and Avian flu. In these times of economic crisis, it is imperative that no sector of society be excluded from the right to health. We call on the Thai and Malaysia government to set up effective national free universal health care systems without exceptions,  and to work closely with migrant communities for health  promotion.

The future of our region depends on the education of the children, and the children of migrant workers must be included in this future. We call for the governments of Malaysia and Thailand to support the education of migrant children in both formal and non-formal education systems.

All migrants have a precarious legal status in Malaysia and Thailand. The majority of migrants are completely undocumented while those with legal or semi-legal status too easily lose their status. Migrants can become illegal by reason of poor policy and practice, by negligence on the part of government officials, by irresponsible actions of the employers or when the migrants attempt to fight for their rights.

Consequently all migrants risk arrest, detention and deportation or threats thereof. We are deeply concerned about the recent reports of deaths of migrants in detention in Malaysia, deaths which could have been avoided with proper access to health care.

Due to the on-going multiple crises in Burma at the hands of an illegal regime, migrants from Burma are forced to leave the country without any preparation, information, safety or documents. The governments of Thailand and Malaysia need to recognize and respond to this reality and ensure that Burmese migrants are not criminalized.

In Thailand, the new registration is a welcome move however we are concerned that forcing migrants to work only within one sector is contrary to all labour rights principles.

We therefore call on Malaysia and Thailand to devise programs which protect the rights of migrants and ensure that migrants can exercise their labour, social, cultural, economic and political rights.

Lastly, we call on the ASEAN and its member nations to abandon their constructive engagement policy with the Burmese regime which only serves to prolong the injustice in Burma.

For further information please contact:

Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia (NAMM): Ms Pranom Somwong +60192371300

MAP Foundation: Ms Jackie Pollock +66860904118


Thailand Re-opens Migrant Worker Registration Program

Irrawaddy news, 3rd June 2009

The Thai government has agreed to offer a new round of registration for work permits for non-citizens illegally working in Thailand, according to Thai non-government organizations.

Jackie Pollock, a founding member of the Thailand-based Migrant Assistance Programme (MAP), said the new registration process requires a recommendation from an employer. The registration process started on Monday.

Myo Thaw, a member of the Labor Rights Promotion Network (LPN), which is based in Mahachai in Samut Sakhon Province said that the new migrant work permits will have different colors to show the category of work.

A worker will have the right to change jobs, but it must be in the same field of work.

According to the LPN, there are 76,000 Burmese workers who have legal work permits and more than 224,000 workers awaiting a new registration cycle in Mahachai.
Meanwhile, the Thai government also has agreed to allow Burmese workers who now hold work permits to apply for work passports from Burma. About 500,000 people are legally registered to work with the Thai ministry of labor.

However, observers said many Burmese are hesitant to apply to the Burmese government for fear of being sent back to Burma.

MAP estimates that there are currently up to five million Burmese migrants living and working in Thailand.

Protestors Arrested at US Embassy in Rangoon

Irawaddy news, 4th June 2009

The family of a detained prisoner was arrested after demonstrating in front of the US embassy on University Avenue Road in Rangoon at 10 a.m. On Thursday, according to local residents in Bahan Township.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy, residents said five family members, including three children, were arrested by police after standing in front of the embassy for 15 minutes holding a placard that read, “Our father was unfairly arrested. Release him!”

It is as yet unclear who the prisoner is or whether he was convicted for political reasons.

The new US embassy was built on the south bank of Inya Lake on University Avenue Road, not far from the lakeside residence where pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was held during her term of house arrest.





by researcher James,

Being victim of human rights violations from Burma, an undocumented refugee was refused to register with UNHCR by postponing without set fourth as no more new registration for Rohingya refugees since early 2006.

However, he approached to UNHCR in every 2 months from the year 2007 but achieved nothing. During this, he  had been arrested and sentenced with punishment of one strike for failure to show documentation, after spending 6 month in detention which is comparatively longer period than illegal immigrants; and finally deported to the place of danger.

After all, he came to known that UNHCR card holder is exempted from caning charged and thus continued to approach to UNHCR until the year 2009. But failed to meet with any fate, even getting recommendation letter from community. However, he is still hoping better that the new Representative will make chances for undocumented refugees.

 Although, he received an appointment token, dated in April, after he approached week to week from Feb to May 2009, his token was taken back by UNHCR officials without any reason and referred him to go to community data collection.  It’s sure that none of the Rohingya community organization is received official letter to collect data for new registration and thus such referral  is leading to further exploitation wisely and it is office’s manual jobs.

Recently, he was again arrested from Ampang Tasik Permai with unfortunate fate.

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