Malaysia sold me

NT news, 10 may 2011,

A BURMESE asylum seeker held in detention in Darwin has said he was sold by immigration officials in Malaysia to people smugglers.

The revelation came after the Federal Government announced a potential one-off deal with Malaysia where 800 asylum seekers trying to reach Australia by boat would instead be sent to Malaysia for processing.

The second part of the plan would see Australia accept 1000 refugees already processed by the UNHCR in Malaysia each year for the next four years.

The asylum seeker has been in the Northern Immigration Detention Centre after he made it to Ashmore Reef with a group of 10 Rohingya people on December 29, 2009.

The man said he was found to be a genuine refugee at the end of May last year.

He is from Burma’s Rohingya minority group and said he was granted refugee status in May last year but is still waiting for his security clearance from security agency ASIO. The man wrote in a letter of his experience describing the Rohingya an oppressed stateless people from Burma who have been the target of ethnic cleansing by the military to stop the creation of a Rohingyan state.

He said his family home was demolished several times by authorities and when he moved to his mother’s native village he found everyone subjected to violent abuse, extortion, military harassment and corporal punishment. He said he escaped to Thailand but could not stay there long because of hostility to Burmese people.

“In Malaysia, I was detained many times as Rohingya people (were subjected to a) constant cycle of humiliation, harassment and abuses,” he wrote.

“I was involved with Rohingya refugee organisations and Burmese political opposition groups based in Kuala Lumpur.

“Once I was detained, I was sold by corrupt immigration officials to people smugglers, I was then sold to a large fishing boat and forced to work at the threat of being shot at sea on the fishing boat.

“I managed to escape the boat when it came into land to collect ice and ran from the boat … ”

He said in order to avoid further persecution he came to Australia by boat from Indonesia. Here is his letter;

To whom it may concern

I am a Rohingya. An oppressed stateless people from Burma.

The Burmese military has long oppressed Rohingya and been involved in an ethnic-cleansing program to prevent the creation of a Rohingya state.

My life in Burma was very hard. My family house was demolished two times by authorities and as a result we had to move to my mothers native village. Every person in that village was subject to violent abuses, fines, extortion, military harassment and corporal punishment. I am aware that at least 100 villagers are still in detention and many have died in detention. My father was died for the subsequent detentions. My siblings were detained in 2008.

After I passed matriculation, I sneaked out Arakan (his home state) to Rangon to continue my study. If I did not leave in secret my family would have had to have paid a large bribe, which they could not afford.

In Rangon, I was involved in research into natural resources, as a part of my research, I was harassed, beaten and detained by government authorities. My colleagues managed to released me through a bribe.

To avoid further punishment, I escaped Burma to Thailand. In Thailand I survived by selling bread. I could not stay long (in) Thailand because of tension directed towards Burmese people. I then went to Malay border. I Malaysia, I was detained many times as Rohingya people (were subjected to) a constant cycle of humiliation, harassment and abuses. I was involved with Rohingya refugee organisations and Burmese political opposition groups based in KL (Kuala Lumpur). Then, I worked odd jobs in mechanical and electrical works.

Once I was detained, I (was) sold by corrupt immigration officials to people smugglers. I was then sold to a large fishing boat and forced to work at the threat of being shot at sea on the fishing boat. I managed to escape the boat when it came into land to collect ice and I ran from the boat.

In order to avoid further persecution, I came to your country via a risky boat journey from Indonesia. We, a group of 10 Rohingya, reached Ashmore Reef on 29 December 2009. And for the first time (there was) no fear of any more persecution. I was happy as I was sure I would find safety in Australia. I was found to be genuine refugee by DIAC since the end of May 2010. Since that time, I have been waiting for my security clearance. I am provided with good accommodation and food in detention in Australia. Some officers here are willing to listen to my concerns.

My life in detention however is very hard on my mind. I have been detained for 18 months. This makes me very depressed and I am tired (from) enduring physical and mental pains as a result of my detention. I have to take medicine for that. I feel as though I cant continue any longer to be detained like this. I have received many promises in detention. I was told in November 2010 that I should wait until the Christmas festival to be held. I was told many times that we may be able to be moved into community detention and be able to live free whilst I wait for my security clearance. On 17 March, the Government notice told everyone that their security clearance would be completed by April. I and my friends were happy to hear this after a long wait. I was told that us Rohingyans would be a priority case. I waited all of April for my clearance and have now been informed recently that it was be delay again.

I feel less and isolated, and I am an innocent refugee. I have been asked to go to a different country so I can escape this pain, but this cant happen. I do not know how long I will have to suffer from this indefinite detention. I have seen some friends attempt suicide, including by setting themselves on fire. I had to help move a friend down from a tree after he attempted to hang himself with a sari, a friend has banged his head a large number of times against a wall. Some have cut themselves.

I am trapped for an unknown reason. I am not a terrorist. I do not support terrorists and hate terrorists and my family has been the victim of many terrorist incidents from the Burmese authorities.

I should not be detained for being a refugee. Therefore I would like to approach the Australian communities to come together to call Australian Government to look kindly into the matter and why its notice is undermined.

Respectfully, long term detainee Burmese refugee asylum seeker, NIDC NT


Bar Council Malaysia’s press release , 9 May 2011

Asylum seekers and refugees are not commodities to be traded

The Malaysian Bar is opposed to the recently-announced arrangement agreed to between the Governments of Malaysia and Australia. As we understand the arrangement, Australia will send to Malaysia 800 asylum seekers who have been detained by the Australian authorities. In return, Australia commits itself to accepting for resettlement 4,000 refugees currently in Malaysia, over a period of four years.

The proposed exchange of asylum seekers for refugees between Malaysia and Australia is a misguided approach for dealing with a complex issue with serious ramifications.

It is irresponsible of Australia, as a State Party to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees adopted on 28 July 1951 (“Convention”), and its 1967 Protocol, to abdicate its international obligations under the Convention. Through this deal, Australia is consigning 800 people to a life of uncertainty and probable suffering, given that Malaysia is not a State Party to that Convention. Indeed, Malaysian law does not even recognise the concept of asylum seekers or refugees. Instead, it treats all undocumented persons as “illegal immigrants”, and subjects them to imprisonment and whipping.

It is untenable that Australia proposes to “pass the buck”, as it were, for the protection, care and support of these 800 asylum seekers, to Malaysia, when Malaysia has no comprehensive and organised system to provide assistance to asylum seekers or refugees. Even more astounding is the fact that Australia had reportedly rejected the use of an Australian-built processing facility in Nauru because that nation is not a signatory to the Convention, yet has no qualms about transferring asylum seekers to Malaysia.

As it is, Malaysia is already home to almost 100,000 asylum seekers and refugees who have been registered by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kuala Lumpur. None of these asylum seekers and refugees is provided with any material or financial help by the Malaysian Government for housing, jobs, education or health care. Because Malaysia has not acceded to the Convention, there are currently no legislative or administrative provisions in place for dealing with the situation of asylum seekers or refugees in the country. They exist in a shadow society in which they have no legal rights, and even less protection and security. They live in constant fear of the authorities – the police, immigration personnel and Ikatan Relawan Rakyat Malaysia (“RELA”) members. The Malaysian Bar reiterates its concern that the legal situation and conditions of life of asylum seekers and refugees and their families in Malaysia is degrading, demeaning and dehumanising, and wholly unacceptable to any civilised society.

Thus, the Australian Government is proposing an arrangement under which it has no assurance that the asylum seekers it sends to Malaysia will be treated in accordance with international human rights norms, and in compliance with the principles of the Convention.

The Malaysian Bar calls upon the Australian and Malaysian Governments not to proceed with this arrangement. Instead, our Government must establish a proper and comprehensive framework for dealing with the situation of asylum seekers and refugees who are already in this country, and begin by according such persons due legal recognition. Malaysia must also demonstrate a proven track record of upholding human rights to the highest possible standards.

We wish to clarify that, contrary to the report titled “Pact gives refugees protection” published in today’s New Straits Times (“NST”), we did not say that the proposed plan is “generally a good one” or that “certain things needed to be done first”. Rather, our statement to NST asserted clearly that we are “stunned that Australia would have such an arrangement with Malaysia when Malaysia is not a State Party to the [Convention]”. Neither did we say that “the agreement was an opportunity for Malaysia to become a signatory to the [Convention]”; instead, we highlighted the urgent need for Malaysia to become a State Party to the Convention for the reasons outlined above.

Lim Chee Wee
Malaysian Bar

9 May 2011

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