A population in limbo
Until things improve, something needs to be done to help refugees awaiting resettlement to third countries or until they can return to their home countries.
WHO could have predicted that the fall of Saigon would impact Malaysia?
The capture of the South Vietnamese capital (now known as Ho Chi Minh City) by the North Vietnamese Army 35 years ago marked the end of the Vietnam War and the transition of a period leading to the formal re-unification of Vietnam under communist rule.
It led to a mass exodus of South Vietnamese who feared persecution because of their sympathies for the old government.
Many escaped by boat and ended up on our east coast, brought naturally by the tides. That was Malaysia’s first brush with refugees, who came to be known as the “Vietnamese boat people”.
“Refugees are people who are forced to leave their countries to avoid persecution,” says Alan Vernon, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“The fear has to be justified. You can be afraid but the fear might not be justified.”
He stresses on this fact because many people do not differentiate between migrants and refugees.
Under international law, a refugee is defined as a person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being prosecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group or political opinion, is in a foreign land and unable to avail himself of the protection of that country.
In contrast, migrants come to Malaysia because of economic opportunities.
There are over two million foreign workers in the country now, not including illegal workers. Most hail from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, India and Vietnam.
“A migrant can choose to return; they might go back to poverty but it is not the same as facing persecution or the possibility of being killed,” says Vernon.
The UNHCR began its operations in Malaysia in 1975 with the arrival of the Vietnamese boat people and this remained its main priority until 1996, when the Comprehensive Plan of Action on Indochinese refugees was officially brought to a close.
For over two decades, the UNHCR assisted Malaysia in hosting close to 250,000 boat people before durable solutions were found for them. Over 240,000 Vietnamese refugees eventually resettled in countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, France and New Zealand while some 9,000 returned to Vietnam.
As Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or the 1967 Protocol that followed, the UNHCR is the main body protecting and assisting asylum-seekers and refugees here.
Malaysia also hosted thousands of Filipino Muslims from Mindanao during the 1970s and 1980s as well as Muslim Chams from Cambodia and Bosnians in the 1990s.
In recent years, thousands of people from Aceh, Indonesia, also sought refuge here.
These days, however, the main refugees are Myanmar nationals, mostly victims of their military junta.
As of October this year, 91,100 refugees and asylum-seekers have registered with the UNHCR. Almost 84,000 are from Myanmar, comprising the Chins, Rohingyas, Myanmar Muslims, Mon, Kachins and others.
Other refugees are from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. Another 10,000 people of concern to the UNHCR remain unregistered.
While in Malaysia, these refugees await resettlement to third countries or remain until the situation in their home countries improves.
Globally, there are 15 million refugees but the total number of people resettled each year is fewer than 100,000. About 7,400 refugees in Malaysia were resettled last year.
Vernon says if the situation changes in their homeland, these people will ultimately return.
“When the situation improved in Aceh (after the signing of the peace agreement following the 2004 tsunami), the Achenese returned. Home is still the best (place to go). Everyone feels the same way. Even those Vietnamese who were resettled in Western countries are interested in going back,” he adds.
But until things improve, something needs to be done.
“What we don’t want is a population in limbo. That’s the nature of refugees – they are waiting for what happens next,” he explains.
Unlike decades ago, refugees today are moving around freely with the local community. They are spread throughout the country although most are concentrated in the Klang Valley.
In the past, the common solution for the Vietnamese boat people was to house them in refugee camps.
“But camp settings are negative as people are denied freedom of movement and conditions are squalid, with sanitation and hygiene problems. The camp becomes a way of warehousing people,” says Vernon.
At the height of the refugees’ exodus from Vietnam, more than 60,000 people were living in a cramped area of not more than one sq km in Pulau Bidong (an island off Terengganu).
Maintenance of refugee camps, he adds, is costly and the running of a camp can amount to more than US$50mil a year.
Vernon believes the current urban setting allows the refugees to live freely and in better conditions although there are still issues that need to be addressed.
The absence of refugee legislation, he points out, makes it difficult for these people to earn a living. Refugees can only take on odd jobs and because there are no contracts involved, the tendency of them being exploited is very high.
Children are denied formal education, while health care is an expensive affair for refugees. Then, there are also the issues of arrests and detention.
“The absence of a legal framework makes it more difficult for refugees,” says Vernon. The UNHCR is urging host governments to put in place refugee laws and sign the refugee convention.
So far, 147 countries have signed the convention, with only Timor Leste, the Philippines and Cambodia being parties to the convention in Asean.
Vernon believes that many governments are reluctant to set conditions in place, believing this might attract more people to the country.
“Refugees are a global problem and governments have to work together on the issue and share out the burden.”
Vernon feels that Malaysia has done well so far, with help from civil society and non-governmental organisations.
From his personal experience, Malaysians want to help out once they understand the plight of the refugees.
“It could happen to anybody if things go out of control in a country,” he reminds.
New UNHCR Head Meets With Refugee Leaders, Assures Greater Dialogue
KUALA LUMPUR, 18 February 2009 – New UNHCR Representative Alan Vernon met with some 50 refugee group representatives, here on Friday. This marks his first large-scale public meeting with these communities since becoming head of the UNHCR Office in Malaysia four months ago.
In his address, Alan Vernon assured refugee communities of greater dialogue and cooperation between them and his Agency in order to find solutions to the issues and concerns they face.
“UNHCR values your role as leaders. Not only do you help organise your communities so that the members can better help themselves, but you represent their concerns to organisations like UNHCR,” said Vernon to the group. “We hope to continue this meaningful dialogue with you.”
Unlike smaller community meetings held in the past, this consultation demarked itself by involving individuals from many different communities.
“What was most significant about this meeting, was the fact that refugees of several nationalities and ethnic groups came together to discuss their concerns,” said Vernon. “Not only were there representatives from most of the Myanmar refugee communities, for the first time there were also representation from the Somali and Sri Lankan groups.”
“For me, this meeting was a good way of getting to know the representatives of the refugee groups we interact with on a daily basis,” said Vernon. “It was also an opportunity for community leaders to voice their concerns to us and share information with other refugee groups.”
Sri Lankan refugee Ravindran, a representative from the Society for Displaced Refugees, described the event as being very useful.
“We don’t always know if our messages are being passed on to the Representative,” he said. “Here is a face to face chance with officials; we know that we’re being understood.”
These feeling were echoed by L Mya Yin, a community leader from the Organization of Karenni Development. She explained that participating in such a forum made her want to connect with non-Myanmar communities to better understand the larger refugee situation in Malaysia and what else could be done.
“I’m interested in contacting other communities so we can exchange. I wonder if they have the same problems as us? Does RELA cause them as many problems, what do they do to stop it?”
Responding to questions with his customary candidness, Vernon explained that UNHCR was working to improve the conditions of refugees in Malaysia, but that outside factors often prevented a quick resolution of problems.
“We are continuously working to prevent arrests, to regularize status of refugees and to speed up the registration process,” said Vernon. “In regard to registration, for example, over 17,000 new cases were registered last year. That’s a 23 percent increase over the previous year. We expect the same in 2009.”
The UNHCR head concluded by addressing the often contentious subject of resettlement. He explained that UNHCR would pursue all new possibilities to expand the programme, but asked for understanding and patience regarding the likelihood of significant improvements in the short term.
“The reality is that we resettled 6,000 people last year, which is roughly 10 percent of the global resettlement number in 2008,” said Vernon. “I would like to be able to say that everyone who wants to be resettled will be. But the reality is that we can’t do that. What we can do, however, is work with you and with other partners to help improve your lives while you are here.
The Rohingya Refugees: Victims Of Exploitation
Source from Asian Tribune, 05 Oct 2009
Nowadays, the Rohingya refugees are not free from exploitation in every moment of their step in countries of their first or second asylum before reaching to a meaningful solution.
It is easy to catch the circumstances in most countries of OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference) as they do not have any mechanism to deal with refugee phenomena, while these are like denying their Islamic obligation. In one word, everyone can realize a thing that was eradicated by the Great Human; the Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) is reappearing in modern form of salvation.
In deed, Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) was the greatest peace maker throughout various agreement including the world first written and 7 Point Agreement known as “Hudaibiah Agreement” signed by both parties of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and Non believers of Mecca .
It is also true that Islam was conquered by character and civilization, not by extremism and egoism. Meanwhile, the actual Islamic believers are modern and thus they never crossed limitation to violate human rights by any means and give dignity towards human beings and every alive.
At the moment, Rohingya refugees are being accused of their connection with extremist group which is undeniably away of exploitation in their marginalized situation. As of truth and authenticity, the Rohingyas are modern from their birth in country of Buddhism and grow in multi-cultural and multi-religious societies but sometimes, extremist groups have been trying to take advantage, initiating to a perfect exploitation with Islamic exploitation and thus they are deserved of international assistances to track out from the circle.
In most option, the Rohingya seek assistances from western government, rather than Islamic world as they have lost their confidence over their brethren with a view to liberating themselves from modern salvation but they don’t deny the temporary shelter and sympathy of both states and general publics of the aforesaid Muslim world. Therefore, they have to burn in cool fire of exploitation into ashes.
In Malaysia, the Rohingyas were underway to whip with rattan for their illegal stay in the country which was exempted by the helps of their Muslim brethren, after getting touch with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is not necessarily should count in services of Muslim world as many Rohingya refugees had to serve such prosecution of whipping, detention, deportation with UNHCR documentation.
Similarly, no Rohingya got chance to enjoy education facilities for long from their brethren as their government did not allow any NGO to work for the benefit of the unfortunate Rohingya refugees but likely encouraged to engage in odd jobs by means of half payment which has a better example like Harvest Centre Sdn. Bhd, a Christian Church has started a pilot project for the marginalized and refugee children in Sentul, Kuala Lumpur from the year 2004 and mostly achieved it goals to set a clear program to educate such type of children and even to make alive Rohingya child’s name with a popular ‘Fisal Cup” which has been held in every year in Kuala Lumpur.
After this program, a new NGO called Taiwan Buddhist Tzu-Chi Foundation gained supports from the Government of the United States of America (USA) as an implementation partner of UNHCR and that has been running 5 different informal schools from the beginning of 2007 in Selangor Darul Ehsan and Wilayah Persekutuan like Tasik Permai, Tasik Tambahan, Taman Terati, Kampung Pandang, Ampang and Selayang, Kuala Lumpur respectively.
Once, the NGO developed children into read and writeable, new stranger groups are jumping into the honey pots of Rohingya’s future generation to get advantage and to exploit them to stop their hopes. It has already taken over two schools of Taiwan Buddhist Tzu-Chi Foundation from Taman Teratia, Ampang and Kampung Pandan, Ampang with a view to expelling to the supports of USA and to build up strong Muslim group to use in anti-Malay movement in coming decade.
These new stranger NGOs are very busy in mobilizing the Rohingya refugees in Malaysia through their fundamentalist hand like Rohingya Information Center (RIC) to deny resettlement to third country and to boycott working together with non-Muslim Burmese oppositions and others with a full commitment of Islamist which is totally not acceptable to this marginalized Rohingya society; thus they, Rohingya refugees are struggling to liberate themselves from the circle of exploitation and wooing to be resettled in western countries as modern Muslim in order to regain their human rights and justice in multi-cultural and multi-religious societies.
Therefore, the Rohingya refugees in Malaysia appeal to the international community, particularly to the Government of United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden, Canada, Norway, New Zealand, Denmark, German, Italy, Finland and all other European countries to urgently rethink the matter of Rohingya refugees in Malaysia with a view to accepting their resettlement which may be helpful to stop world threat exploitation. The almost 80% of the Rohingya refugees in Malaysia were found active for resettlement to the west by the Arakan Rohingya Refugee Committee (ARRC), Malaysia and National Democratic Party for Human Rights (exile) South East Asia Regional office and thus the extension of real and practical sympathy for these victims of exploitation would be highly appreciated.
* By Kyaw Soe Aung @ MSK Jilani, is the General Secretary of NDPHR (exile) Headquarters based in Milwaukee City , Wisconsin State ( USA ), Advisor for the ARRC, Malaysia and Rohingya rights and youth activist
Rohingyas in Malaysia and Reality of Imm-13 Process
Burmese Refugees “Treated Like a Commodity
Rohingya: Burma’s Forgotten Minority
Among Burma’s ethnic minorities, the Rohingya, a stateless population, stand out for their particularly harsh treatment by Burmese authorities and their invisibility as a persecuted minority. Despite decades of severe repression, there has been minimal international response to the needs of this extremely vulnerable population compared to other Burmese refugees. The United Nations (UN) and donor governments should integrate the Rohingya into their regional responses for Burmese refugees. Host countries should allow the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and implementing partners to provide basic services to all the Rohingya and officially recognize them as a refugee population.
The Burmese Rohingya
The Rohingya are a Muslim population from western Burma. Numbering almost two million, they are concentrated in just three townships located along the Burmese-Bangladeshi border, known as Northern Rakhine State (NRS). Conquered by the Burmese in the early nineteenth century, the Rohingya and their Rakhine Buddhist co-nationals have been treated more like a subjugated minority than as members of Burmese society. In 1982, the Burmese government stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship, formally codifying an ongoing campaign to encourage them to leave the country.
Official Burmese government policy on the Rohingya is repressive. The Rohingya need authorization to leave their villages and are not allowed to travel beyond Northern Rakhine State. They need official permission to marry and must pay exorbitant taxes on births and deaths. Religious freedom is restricted, and the Rohingya have been prohibited from maintaining or repairing crumbling religious buildings. Though accurate statistics are impossible to come by inside Burma, experts agree that conditions in Northern Rakhine State are among the worst in the country. Rohingya refugees commonly cite land seizures, forced labor, arbitrary arrests, and extortion as the principal reasons for flight. Once a Rohingya leaves his or her village without permission, he or she is removed from official residency lists, and can be subject to arrest if found.
With few options available to the Rohingya in Bangladesh, more and more people are risking their lives to travel to Malaysia to seek livelihood opportunities. The number of Rohingya boat people originating from inside Burma and from Bangladesh is increasing, despite the dangers posed by dishonest brokers, substandard boats, and the Thai navy. Although many have lost their lives at sea or were caught and detained by Burmese authorities, many more continue to reach Malaysia. In all, an estimated one million Rohingya now live in Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, the Middle East, and farther afield.
A Marginalized Minority
Repression of ethnic minorities is widespread in Burma, and many see a resolution of the country’s ethnic tensions as vital to its future.Â Unfortunately, Burmese civil society and the political opposition often mirror the government’s perception of the Rohingya. “They are not Burmese”, “they should leave the country,” and “there is no place for them in the future of Burma”, are repeated refrains that Refugees International has heard in its conversations inside the country.
This resonates in refugee communities as well. In Malaysia, which is home to a wide range of Burmese ethnic minorities, efforts by refugees to organize coalitions to confront harsh living conditions have excluded the Rohingya. Burmese opposition groups in Thailand have regularly failed to include the Rohingya in their work as well. Donors who support these initiatives have been reluctant to challenge these decisions out of respect for community decision-making, but as a result they reinforce the exclusion of the Rohingya.
The United Nations and donor countries have also contributed to the separation of Rohingya from other Burmese refugees. Most notably, Bangladesh, which hosts the largest number of Rohingya refugees, receives scant attention and funding in comparison to other parts of the region, such as Thailand. Despite modest increases in funding for the Rohingya in Bangladesh, total support still pales in comparison to funding in other parts of the region. In Malaysia, UNHCR continues to work for a separate solution for the Rohingya “temporary work permits” and exclude almost all of the Rohingya from options such as resettlement that are available to other Burmese refugees. RI’s conversations with donor governments similarly indicate their comfort with the separation of the Rohingya from other Burmese refugees.
Separate but Not Equal
Isolation of the Rohingya is exacerbated by the lack of effective political or community organizing within the group. Burmese ethnic groups in Thailand have greatly benefited from support they receive from the international community to gain skills to provide for themselves and to organize politically. Thailand-based Burmese organizations are now supporting similar ethnic Burmese organizations in Malaysia. Because no effective Rohingya organizations currently exist, there is no such support to the Rohingya in either Bangladesh or Malaysia.
It is unlikely that leadership will emerge from the younger generation of the Rohingya if they continue to be marginalized and unable to access training or higher education opportunities. The UN and donor countries should consider ways to assist in fostering more effective organizing of the Rohingya by supporting community mobilization projects in Bangladesh and Malaysia, with attention to encouraging women’s participation.
The Rohingya are currently excluded from large-scale resettlement programs for Burmese refugees. From 2005-2008, 49,930 Burmese have been resettled to third countries as part of a multi-year campaign. In contrast, the first Rohingya have just begun to be resettled, with 500 openings in 2008 in Bangladesh and 45 individuals resettled from Malaysia since 2007. While resettlement can never be the only durable solution for refugee communities, it could address a critical component of the Rohingya’s condition, namely providing citizenship rights to a stateless population.
The exclusion of the Rohingya from large scale resettlement by UNHCR and receiving countries is based on the assumption that the Rohingya populations in Bangladesh and Malaysia will be able to integrate locally better than other Burmese refugees. However, as Refugees International observed in both Bangladesh and Malaysia, repressive government policies and lack of adequate international support force the Rohingya to struggle for survival in both countries. In addition, neither Bangladesh nor Malaysia are signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, which gives refugees like the Rohingya little legal protection in either country.
In Bangladesh, where the Rohingya have lived for almost twenty years as refugees, officially recognized refugees are restricted to living in camps, separated from the local community. For unrecognized Rohingya living outside the camps, the Bangladeshi government prohibits the expansion of services to benefit them. UNHCR and donor governments believe that encouraging self-sufficiency among the Rohingya in communities will be the best solution, but achieving it will be a long-term proposition.
In Malaysia, where many Rohingya have also been living for close to twenty years, the continued failure of the government to provide any legal status to the Rohingya subjects them to the same vulnerabilities as other Burmese refugees, including arrest, deportation, and a lack of access to basic services such as education and health care. Despite the length of their residence in Malaysia, they do not feel part of Malaysian society. As in Bangladesh, supporting efforts towards self-sufficiency is a sensible approach, but it is far from reality, and should not be considered to be more likely for the Rohingya than it is for other Burmese.
UNHCR and resettlement countries should revise their policies to include the Rohingya in the large-scale resettlement campaigns of Burmese now underway. Including the Rohingya in resettlement programs could also provide increased incentives to host countries such as Bangladesh and Malaysia to provide durable solutions for the populations that would remain as refugees. At the same time, donors should push governments to ease restrictions on the Rohingya and support programs that will lead to increased self-reliance.
The inability of the Rohingya to access basic services in both Bangladesh and Malaysia is further compounding their vulnerability. In Bangladesh, the government continues to create challenges for international organizations that provide services to the Rohingya. In the two official refugee camps, UNHCR has ended abuses by camp authorities and negotiated with the government to allow more services and training programs for the 28,000 Rohingya refugees. Nonetheless, basic services in these camps still remain insufficient, and programs for mental health, livelihood, and prevention of gender-based violence need to be strengthened. In particular, the inability of Rohingya children to access education past grade five due to government restrictions gives them few options for improving their lives and providing for their families in the future.
There are more than 200,000 Rohingya living unofficially outside these main camps, some in precarious situations. In the drive to provide longer-term options for self-sufficiency, there is a need to provide strategies that address the immediate health, sanitation, education, and security needs of growing numbers of unregistered Rohingya, such as those at Leda and the makeshift Kutupalong settlement, until they can benefit from self-sufficiency programs.
In Malaysia, the lack of access to basic services for the Rohingya is further exacerbated by the government’s targeting of refugees for arrest, detention, and deportation. As of 2008, 400 Rohingya children, out of a registered population of more than 13,000 Rohingya refugees, have access to primary education run by an international organization. Many Rohingya raise the lack of educational opportunities as their number one concern. This and the few other services that do exist are found in Kuala Lumpur, and little to no assistance reaches communities outside of the capital, such as Penang, where the Rohingya have formed a significant community. The lack of community organizing by the Rohingya in Malaysia also prevents them from providing services to their own population, as other Burmese groups in Malaysia do.
Access to health services for the Rohingya in Malaysia is also severely limited. Refugees seeking medical care at local hospitals risk arrest and Rohingya women are often unable to receive maternal health care because of high costs. There is also a need for increased livelihood training, with a focus on Rohingya women, who must provide for their families when their husbands are arrested. Despite the security risks for the Rohingya, donors should do more to fund civil society groups running service programs, and UNHCR and implementing partners should expand their services, particularly medical care, beyond Kuala Lumpur.
The Consequences of Marginalization
The separation of the Rohingya by the international community and by Burmese groups has led to an overall lack of support for a traumatized population for twenty years. This has led to severe illiteracy and an overall lack of education, substandard health and living conditions, and few options for a productive future. It is striking how many Rohingya told Refugees International, “My life is over. All I want is for my children to have a chance at a better life.” Two generations of the Rohingya have said this, only to see the vast majority of their community suffer the same neglect and lack of opportunity that their parents faced.
The UN, donor countries, and above all countries in South and Southeast Asia, must begin to address the plight of all Burmese refugees as equal, and commit resources to them in equal measure. There must also be an acknowledgement that the Rohingya, like other Burmese refugees, will continue to live in a state of protracted exile, with little hope for returning home in the upcoming years, and begin to plan humane and effective responses to this reality.
Bangladesh: Promote Self-Sufficiency for All Rohingya
While the Bangladeshi government allows UNHCR and implementing partners to assist the 28,000 Rohingya who live in official camps, it prevents the international community from accessing unrecognized refugees. This has led to serious gaps in basic services and protection for some 200,000 people. Though the first large-scale movement of the Rohingya into Bangladesh dates to 1978, most current refugees moved to Bangladesh in 1991-92 in response to a Burmese offensive in NRS.
9,000 Rohingya live in an unofficial site called Leda, whose residents were moved out of substandard conditions in July 2008. Because the Rohingya in Leda are not recognized refugees, services to this population are minimal and UNHCR does not have any official role there. Expectations among the residents are high, as the new site was constructed with international funds, and basic health services and food rations are provided. Competition for work opportunities in the surrounding community has created tensions between the Rohingya and locals, and is creating greater reliance on the few services provided in Leda. Without any government or police presence, security for camp residents is a major concern.
A makeshift squatter settlement of 4,000 Rohingya is also growing immediately around the Kutupalong camp. Residents here largely had been living among the Bangladeshi communities, but were recently forced out due to lack of official documentation during a national voter registration drive. The Rohingya in the squatter settlement told Refugees International that they cannot access water and latrines in Kutupalong because they are chased away by official camp residents.
Without access to camp services, water, sanitation, and health are jarringly worse than for their camp neighbors. Unsanitary water sources, insufficient waste disposal, and visible illness in the makeshift settlement are not only a threat to its residents, but could threaten the health of official camp residents due to the proximity of the two sites. UNHCR hopes the Bangladeshi government will assist these squatters to return to their former villages, but no progress has been made in this effort to date. A solution must also be found for new arrivals to the squatter settlement who were not previously living in a local village.
Cox’s Bazar is one of the poorest districts in Bangladesh, and standards of living for local Bangladeshis are only marginally better than for the Rohingya. A focus on providing assistance that will benefit the local Bangladeshi population and Rohingya refugees, both inside and outside of the camps, is needed. UNHCR and service providers are eager to follow this model, and the Government of Bangladesh should be encouraged to approve these strategies. However, until these strategies are implemented, immediate solutions must be found to address the basic needs of the Rohingya living in Leda and the unofficial Kutupalong settlement.
Malaysia: Stop the Abuse of Refugees
Malaysia does not recognize refugees seeking protection in its country. As a result the Rohingya, like other refugees in Malaysia, are targeted by immigration authorities and Rela, a volunteer corps charged with arresting illegal migrants. There has been a sharp increase in arrests, detentions, and deportations of refugees in recent years, including UNHCR registration card holders. Refugee women and children are also vulnerable to arrest and detention. UNHCR continues to have difficulty accessing detention centers to secure the release of registered refugees and asylum seekers. Detention conditions are substandard, and detainee abuses have risen since Rela was given the contract to provide security in these facilities in early 2008.
Deportation of detained refugees to the Thai-Malaysia border poses additional protection concerns. At the border, Malaysian authorities reportedly hand over deportees to human traffickers who demand payment for their release. Most Burmese refugees in Malaysia have formed ethnic-based community organizations that can pool funds to pay for the release of a deportee. The lack of community organization among the Rohingya forces them to rely on friends and family to secure their own release. As a result, the Rohingya are especially vulnerable to abuse, forced labor, and to being trafficked at the border.
In 2006, the Government of Malaysia began registering the Rohingya for IMM13 permits, which would grant temporary work status and thus some protection. Due to concerns by the government surrounding the registration process, permit registration has since stalled, and the Rohingya, like other Burmese refugees, continue to live without legal status, making them more vulnerable to arrests. In addition, UNHCR has not registered any new Rohingya since December 2005, except for the most vulnerable. This further puts them at risk of abuse by immigration authorities.
Protection of the Rohingya in Malaysia should not hinge solely on IMM13 permits, which are uncertain at best. The Rohingya should be given access to the same opportunities for registration and resettlement as other Burmese in Malaysia. Ultimately, in order to improve the situation for refugees in Malaysia, including the Rohingya, donors must push the government to stop arrests of all refugees and recognize those seeking protection and asylum.
A Memo On World Refugees Day 2008… “Decade of Failure”
As we celebrate refugees day, refugees all over the world face failure of their rights on daily basis. However, Refugees Day comes and passes may have a little improvement to meet international obligation in recognition of the right to life and dignity as refugee protection is a fundamental rights both on humanitarian and human rights grounds. But this year had landed by Nargis Cyclone victims about 1.5 million, beside hundred of thousand people dead. Burmese groups around the world call humanitarian bodies to relief Nargis victims ignored by illegal Junta’. But, illegal Junta’s theory still influencing and survivor Nargis victims dying by endangering life and health. At the same time, many of activists were arrested for their humanitarian supports and unknown numbers of activists had been flowed into refugee population including from ‘monk’s peace movement and referendum issues’. Therefore, there is the need to adopt a new sanction to restrict illegal Junta’s establishing human rights violations including denial of the existences of Rohingya.
Rohingya is one of the most unforgotten and isolated people in Burma. They do not leave their homes willingly. In particular, they are endlessly facing traumatic persecution, expulsion from homeland, depriving from their rights, prosecution, oppressions, etc.. These make them to flee from homeland and cross the risks for many days in order to find safety in different lands. Sadly, their arrivals in close regions, has been rendered by defining as illegal immigrants and then disposed into modern slavery. After escape from such circumstances, a few numbers are hopping to meet their obligation under it concern agency to provide legal representation. But they have been marginalized again in this quota.
We also well known about UNHCR recognized Burmese refugees’ suffering and languishing in the circle of arrest, detention, uncertain deportation in closed regions. In some moment, argument of Rohingyas in Malaysia to be regularized by Imm-13(work permit) and the host to ratify refugees conventions, were raised on the consequences of international communities’ serious in helping refugees. However, these arguments are regardless of the host government’s responses, regardless of tandem affects and refugees’ claimants.
Malaysia is not signatory to refugees conventions nor has legislation for protection of refugees or asylum-seekers and lacked of benefit from International Customary law, CRC, CEDAW and Detention Rights. On time of refugees were arrested and detained in horrific condition, no one or no representation can provide legal aid. No one also interest the past of their tragedy one, as well as the issues pointed as illegal immigrants. As per study, almost every one of UNHCR recognized 15,000 Rohingya refugees had been experienced with arrest, detention, deportation regardless of age or condition and then out of about 10% had been punished by cane whipping. The measure shows refugees in Malaysia are still subjected the state’s the attest of ‘clarifying illegal’.
In 2005, “UNHCR representative Dr. Volker Turk’s confidential promise was ‘refugees will not affected by the crackdown’. ( this source highlighted in malaysiakini, 15 Dec 2004). He better understood the situation but failed to tackle and transferred casually.
In detention, refugees faced over crowding, inhumane abuses, providing malnutrition and insufficient food, criminal justice system and sold out to modern slavery. Which shown nothing advanced towards protection of refugees or ‘refugees rights’. Refugees would not freed from such circumstances once the host targets them as its enemy No.(2). Rohingya refugees faced more difficulties as they were isolated from protection chapter like before. More than more, their lives would be endured with bitter experiences in legal limbo. As a result of Rohingyas are paved separate solution which is unscrupulous and unworkable solution set with no parameter. They also faced abuses in UNHCR premise sometimes on their inevitable approaches. The below is sensitive articles and indirect ignorance of their situation;
(a)”Chins are likely to be resettle”, source from malaysiakini, on 15 March 2007.
(b) “Administration has not yet ordered resettlement for Rohingya”, replied in Ajil detention camp, on Nov 2007. (testimony of most Rohingya detainee refugees)
(c) “we, UNHCR office does submit non Rohingya for resettlement process, is our policy”, replied by phone. (some Rohingya refugees reported to area based community)
(d)”resettlement is depend on various resettlement countries, not by UNHCR”, source from malaysiakini, on15 March 2007
(e)”There was certainly a decline in resettlement post-Sept 11. That’s because of a changed security environment.” Said Dr Volker Turk, Head representative Officer for UNHCR-Malaysia, source from malaysiakini on 10 Nov 2004.
(f) “some a few numbers were succeed in local integration and most are still under the process of local integration” (UNHCR responded to a foreign reporter, before 2008 )
(g)”the time after election of Malaysia is moved to positive and some hopes in opposition and government” (report released by Women’s Commission for Refugee Women & Children on Sept 2008)
(h)”According to Office policy you are not eligible for resettlement”, replied by firstname.lastname@example.org, on 17 Jan 2006.
(i) “we, UNHCR cannot help Rohingya”, replied by an officer who visited to Semenyith detention camp, in an interviewed with a prolong detainee Rohingya on 04 June 2008.
This is the fact that if Rohingyas were arrested, they consented to accept withdrawal to tie-up with uncertain deportation after prolong detained. Because on the condition of no resettlement process, no legal protection for constant security problems, no way to get release from detention, can not be deport to different country nor home, and no one to care the rest of their family left behind. Eventually, the detainee Rohingyas were handed over to human traffickers in Malay-Thai border and forced to pay unbearable amount 1700 to 2500 RM for smuggle back to Malaysia or free either. Victim who does not effort payment would be sold into fishing boat or plantation or sex worker sectors with uncertainty. Reportedly, many are still missing. But, frontier agency doesn’t highlight nor interest about them. The worst is Rohingyas are mis-informed and wrongfully utilized in various ways through misconception of Rohingya is closed to Malaysia. The agency thinks affiliation is a solution and every single refugee suffering is simple and general.
Some cases in court, a few Refugee detainees had been strongly argued and proposed not to admit guilty if not committed sin. Whilst the host government’s legal Lawyer declaring that the person who has not proper document in the entry of Malaysia, the person should be subjected for guilty of entering illegal. When the victim had demonstrated on the right path, the victim was remanded again and again and transferred to many prisons took about 8 months to suffer in horrific condition. Eventually, the victim voluntarily came to agree to admit guilty on the lacked of legal representation.
Therefore, approaching directly to their grievances is highly required because they are suffering, they are refugees if we believe and give a hand to’. As refugee cases are concerned to their refugee agency-UNHCR, UNHCR must solve their problems through; recognizing their plights by registering their status and granting their rights by determining their status. That is why the most of resettlement countries informed by official letter to various organizations that “their state has already welcomes refugees regardless of race, religion, colour or rank. Please, approach to frontier UNHCR, UNHCR itself can be consider in the context of this quota. While remaining as the largest resettlement countries USA and Canada, and Australia in Asia Pacific region, Rohingyas may be apply the same protection.”
Here is one of the event of three disability Rohingya refugees from Maung Daw township-Arakan, namely; Md.Jalal-20, Abdul Khalid-22, and Ama Dudul-32, were dropped in front of UNHCR office by people smuggle, at 4:00am of 9th June 2008. They 3 are being very weak and being disabled, affected leprosy on part of their body and suffering polio where one can crawl only. The office just rendered by handing over to a Rohingya women to lift to ACTS clinic to provide assistant, shelter and further. Generally, clinic refers to hospital for further treatment or instability treatment conducted for uncertain persons. The result found because of deficiency. They 3 Rohingyas had been also refused to stay anyone’s home for their unidentified status and disability conditions as their hands do not work even to eat food. Fortunately, Tenaganit-GBV team visited many times and then provided financial assistant and arranged for medication. Six days later, they were lifted by Tenaganita-GBV’s officer Mr.Jerry, to get providing shelter under ACTS clinic in Batu Arang. However, they three had hopped for UNHCR’s assistances.
Moreover, about 6,000 to 9,000 of both registered and unregistered Rohingya children are lacked of basic education. Prouding with a few sectors opening access less than 500 children is not enough however. Mr Zafar of MERHROM had raised this issue during UN special rapporteur Vernor Munoz Villalibos on the right to education, visit Malaysia in 2007 Feb.
Many are over aged, disable, widow and sick. They inspire to get assistance for survive, rental and sanitation, beside the untold story is how majority of Rohingya surviving while they are forbid to work. The agency must answer this.
Additionally, Rohingya is not one of the ethnicity recognized by present Burmese government and their citizenship right denied by new country constitution-1982 then racially and politically oppressed. So Rohingya is being different from others who are accepted as citizenship and recognized in Burma. Rohingyas have nothing to do in Burma before reload their rights, possessions, lands, historic buildings, spirits.
But in 2002, UN official Mr. Shinji Kubo wrongfully quoted during he handed over 18 recognized Burmese Rohingyas to police that he had been unable to provide substantial or credible information establishing their refugee status. (source from BBC World Service, on 25 June 2002)
Again by UNHCR’s Liaison officer Lowell Martin had denied and dismissed their situation on Nov 2003. But these were not reliable to compel its constituted declaration relating to refugees and their situation even Mr. Shinji Kubo mis-quoted them as occupied the agency compound for more than a week. Therefore we demand that;
- international communities to intervene on frontier UNHCR’s policy-mania,
- UNHCR to review its policy and ratify resettlement for Rohingyas like others,
- to open new registration of disability, vulnerable refugees and family members,
- to stop various mean of abuses in frontier UNHCR.,
- to open UNHCR’s cooperative clinic in between Cheras and Ampang areas where most of Rohingyas are based,
- to distribute legal aid to its recognized detainee refugees in detention centers,
- to provide assistances to its recognized vulnerable Rohingya refugee families,
- to save its recognized refugee deportees from uncertain deportations, and
- to enhance the host authority to stop arrest, detention, deportation or handing-over to traffickers of Refugees.
We also like to call upon UNDP to enhance its member organizations to practice it decades based declaration on ‘rights’. Especially, to Nargis victims in Myanmar and long rooted statelessness’s solution.
“Rohingyas need the same protection, assistance, education and a safe environment, like others.”
Articles of the Host’s Reactions;
Auxiliary Police Unit (Rela) director Zaidon Asmuni said, “if talking about human rights, can not talk about security. Illegal migrants are enemy No.2, No. 1 is drug”. (source from multimedia in an interview on Dec 2007, www.iht.comand others )
Minister of directed by government said, “don’t to quote international Law to Malaysia “, in the meeting with our head officer Dr. Volker Turk. ( source from malaysiakini, 15 Dec 2005 )
Malaysia has not signatory to any agreement concerning refugee which mean do not recognize UNHCR asylum seekers or refugees. (2 Feb 2007, source from News Strait Time )
Malaysia is like other United Nation member Countries, do not recognized UNHCR’s Power.(NST page-2, 2 Feb 2007 )
We are happy in “if the UNHCR here had their own camp, they provide shelter, funding.. and promise to repatriate the refugees”. (15 March 2007, source from Malaysiakini )
Refugees have become a perennial problem for us, anybody who comes into the Country without proper documentation will be consider illegal, we have more than our fair share, they should be relocate to a third country, the fact is we are not signatory to 1951 06 1967 Refugee Convention, we have called the Agency. ( 18 April 2007, NST, page 8 )
Ministry department of directed by the government said, “O.. , illegal one, our office do not work for illegal”, responded when some political officer of embassies in KL approached for refugees’ issues.
In 2007 Aug 5, two Rohingyas activists had been beaten inhumanly and arrested by Rela Mohamed, Rela Officer Manickam, Rela officer Mohamed and a Chinese-Malaysian bald-head Rela officer from Rela Station Batu 10, Cheras. At the same time, the same Rela officers said, “this is not UN Territory, because of you foreign illegal people- we Malaysian have no jobs, we Malaysians have yet require to meet various rights, the raid is not held by as we want but by PM order, see SMS”.. Furthermore, MERHROM’s Mr.Zafar was jacked his neck and forced to leave the premise of Rela Station,Batu-10. Cheras.
“We won’t recognize refugees, .. a view to escape hard-shop in their own country” (on Nov 2007, NST )
“all refugees may are set to return home following a peace deal between the government and rebel there”. (source from malaysiakini)
On 14 June 2008, Home Minister Syed Hamid Alber said, “no quick solution to illegals,..Previously we discussed with UNHCR to discuss with other country to help take in the stateless people,…arguing here not to be emotional over the issue,… you cannot impose,.. we understand the fear of the local people,..” (source from The Star News)
despite Cyclone Nargis in Irrawaddy Delta of Burma borough internationally sympathy, Malaysian authority had arrested hundreds of Burmeses within months. Of them, about 200 persons are Rohingyas. Many of them were handed over to traffickers and about hundred are still remained in detentions.
Note from: Message by UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres to mark World Refugee Day, 2008
“At the UN refugee agency, we focus on protecting the rights and well-being of refugees. This includes ensuring that those fleeing violence and persecution are given access to safety and life-saving assistance, as well as long term support during exile and eventual durable solutions for them to be able to rebuild their lives.”
“On this World Refugee Day, I would like to pay tribute to all of those who have been forcibly uprooted and to the many humanitarians who help them. Refugees show incredible courage and perseverance in overcoming enormous odds to rebuild their lives. Ensuring that they get the protection they deserve is a noble cause because refugee rights are human rights – and rights that belong to us all.”
ACTING TODAY TO SAVE REFUGEES
20th June 2008, Press Statement by MERHROM
In the year 2007, the global number of Refugees and Displaced people reached 67 million. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there has been an increase in the last 2 years.
While the world is facing an increase in the global number of Refugees, Myanmar Ethnic Rohingyas Human Rights Organization Malaysia (MERHROM) urge the United Nations agencies especially UNHCR to find solutions to the problems faced by the Refugees and displaced people by addressing the Root Causes.
In the case of Myanmar, though the United Nations made attempts to restore democracy by meeting with military Junta but there are no changes whatsoever. The military Junta continues with the human rights violations. The United Nations has to use a different strategy in dealing with Myanmar military Junta to end its human rights violations to the people of Myanmar. We will continue see an increasing number of Refugees from Myanmar, that would contribute to the global numbers of Refugees and Displaced people until and unless the United Nations is able to restore democracy in Myanmar.
Recognizing the fact that UNHCR faces various challenges in dealing with Refugees issues, MERHROM continues to call on UNHCR to protect the rights of Refugees as they are one of the most vulnerable groups. UNHCR must continue the dialogue with the host countries of Refugees to stop the arrest, detention and deportation of Refugees due to their vulnerable situations. The deportation of Refugees to the Thailand border further increases their vulnerability to human trafficking.
Apart from the continuous dialogue with the host countries of Refugees, MERHROM calls on UNHCR, to not discriminate and practice double standards in the Resettlement processes based on ethnicity, race and religion. Further to that, the Resettlement Countries should not practice discriminatory policies in accepting Refugees into their countries.
As we understand UNHCR also have some limitations in Resettling Refugees due to its large number, MERHROM appeals to the UNHCR Headquarters in Geneva to look seriously into the plight of Stateless Rohingya Refugees who mainly seek refuge in Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Rohingya Refugees have been stranded in Malaysia for almost 2 decades, yet there has been no solution to the plights.
While UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur resettled other ethnic Refugees from Myanmar, MERHROM hope that UNHCR applies the same policy towards Rohingya Refugees as we are in need of the same protection, assistance, education and safe environment like others.
MERHROM also appeals to the host countries of Refugees to issue temporary documents to allow Refugees to stay and work legally while UNHCR processes our Resettlement to the third countries. By allowing Refugees to work, we could also contribute to the economic development of the host countries.
Though not many countries signed 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, most of the host countries of Refugees have signed Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), therefore the state is accountable to the protection of every child and woman in their soil but the reality is, babies, children and women continue to become subject to arrest, detention and deportation.
Currently Refugees’ life is challenged by the high increase of the prices of goods. It is really hard for Refugees to continue living in the current situation as we are not allowed to work. Therefore, we really hope that the host countries be more sympathetic to our plights as shown towards the victims of Cyclone Nargis.
It is not easy to live as a Refugee in a foreign land where our rights are completely denied. Our suffering is unexplainable.
We hope that our voices will be heard on this World Refugee Day, actions will be taken to reduce our sufferings and that we can work together in bringing a better future to all Refugees.
by,”BRAT Rohingya Thai” -24 June 2008
The World Refugee Day was observed on June 20 in the office of the Burmese Rohingya Association in Thailand (BRAT) in Thailand home to more than 3,000-4,000 Rohingyas for the last almost two decades since the citizenship law drafted late dictator Newin in 1982, and also participated a demonstration in front of Burmese Embassy in Bangkok on 19 June, 2008 organized by BRHC and BRAT.
It is clear sign that, Burmese Refugees are helpless in Thailand since refugee screening process is stopped for long time UNHCR is playing role as like as the associating to the Burmese regime. In Thailand many refugees are remained that they are hapless people, uprooted from their homes living in a foreign land due to compelling circumstances of discrimination of religious and racial persecution, political instability, and etc.
World Refugee Day 2008, was observed on June 20 with a call to “right to protection” for all refugees. This year’s the time was “very ugly of UNHCR role for refugees in Thailand “. The gathering was existed in front of the Burmese Embassy for two hours. Participation of Rohingyas were almost 30 people and with some of the group of democratic fighters from Burmese oppositions. It was a remarkable gathering in few years and a Buddhist chanting and Muslim pray was set off.
BRAT secretary Enayet Ullah delivered a speech after the opening speech was given by the BRHC chairman U Kin Zaw.
On 21/06/2008 a BRAT team participated a meeting International Committee of Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) was presided over by Thai deputy Justice Ministe, BRAT Secretary General handed over the Rohingyaâ€™s current suffering situation including in Thailand and elsewhere. The Thai deputy Justice minister promised to carry out the matter in their ministerial meeting.
BRAT Secretary General also applied to the ICERD meeting to eradicate the all kind of racial discriminations are happening behind the law enforcement agencies in Thailand.
Finally, BRAT urge upon to a systematic protection of all kinds of role and regulations would be established in the Thai society and encourage to restore the democracy in Burma .
Burmese Rohingya Association in Thailand (BRAT)
Mobile No. 66(0)84-0263144
Email: bratrohingyathai@ yahoo.com
by BRAJ Demonstrated on WORLD REFUGEE DAY
The Burmese Rohingya Association in Japan (BRAJ) which was established in 1994 has been working for the restoration of democracy and human rights in Burma . Since last few years BRAJ is continuously organizing the demonstration in front of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Justice in Japan on the occasion of world refugee day June 20 as some of Rohingya refugees are managed to reach Japan in search of asylum for the temporary shelter. People are forced to flee their homes country for in creasingly complicated and interlinked reasons. Millions of people worldwide, regardless of race or religion, are already uprooted by violence and persecution, and it is likely that the future will see more people migrate to the neighboring countries in search of safety atmosphere for their livelihood. The world community should consider preventing those factors that create conditions for further forced displacement.
As an expression of solidarity with all the countries, which hosts refugees, and has been showing great generosity and sympathy, the UN General Assembly adopted a Resolution and therefore decided that, from 2001, 20 June would be celebrated as World Refugee Day. At the present time people worldwide flee persecution and war but also natural disaster in which the concerned government authority deny to receive foreign aids and decline to supply foods, clean water and medical facilities to the victims of so called disaster consequently more than 133,000 people were left dead or missing when the cyclone pounded into Myanmar on May 2 and 2.4 million people are devastated homeless need emergency aid, but that about one million have not yet received any foreign assistance.
The Burmese military junta has, once again, extended the house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in 1991 who become the face of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar . Daw Aung San Suu Kyi lost her freedom for simply expressing a desire to bring democracy to Burma . Myanmar state media said that voters had overwhelmingly approved a draft constitution that strengthens the junta’s rule and reported that 92.93 percent of eligible voters approved the constitution which was conducted “in an atmosphere of official coercion and vote tampering.” The regime sponsored constitution is approved against the will of the people of Burma . A deadly cyclone called Cyclone Nargis made landfall on May 2 that resulted about 130,000 people either died or are missing and more than 2.4 people million have been rendered homeless. Myanmar ‘s xenophobic military regime had been “deaf and dumb” to global offers of aid to its thousands of cyclone victims.
It is strange to perceive, despite centuries settlement, that the junta has ostracized Rohingya of Arakan calling them non-citizens of Myanmar propagating act of genocide that makes thousands of minority Rohingya stateless around the world wandering for the life security and protection on the humanitarian basis from the concerned authorities. They have been exterminated in a systematic and planned way and their homeland has now shrunk progressively in insignificance or to semi-preservations. The Rohingyas¢ freedom of movement is severely restricted and the Rohingyas have effectively been denied Myanmar citizenship. They are also subjected to various forms of extortion and arbitrary taxation; land confiscation; forced eviction and house destruction; and financial restrictions on marriage. Rohingyas continue to be used as forced laborers on roads and at military camps and denies them access to both medical care and education.
As stranded Rohingya refugees 35 members of BRAJ gathered on June 20, 2008 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Justice in Japan to exhibit their concern over the current situation of the people of Burma under the tyrannical regime which has been forcefully expelling its people through gross human rights violations. The demonstration was also attended by staffs of Amnesty International, representatives from the Japanese NGOs and individuals and it was started at 12:00 noon, the demonstrators shouted democratic slogan that oppose the regime rule in Burma and dispersed at 2:00 pm after handing over a memorandum addressing to Foreign Affairs Minister and Justice Minister of Japan .
Maung Maung Soe
|Monday, 26 November 2007|
A Nightmare on Foreign Soil
source from TENAGANITA,
A group of young men boarded the Biman Bangladesh flight to Malaysia hoping for a better life for themselves and their loved ones. They were promised high-paying jobs and were happy to sell off the last piece of asset they owned to realise their dream job.
Within a few months they boarded another flight back to Bangladesh. Cheated by their recruiting agency, traumatised by the maltreatment from outsourcing agents, empty-handed and humiliated now they do not know how they are going to go back to their villages and face their families.
Al Amin, a 24-yr-old Honours student was studying in Rajshahi College Social Sciences department when he was approached by an acquaintance with a job offer he just couldn’t refuse. This man assured Amin that he could get him a job at Sony Electronic Company in Malaysia where he would get a salary equivalent to at least BDT 30,000 and all he would have to do was give an initial processing fee of Tk 1.5 lakh to the recruiting agency. For a hard-up farmer’s son it was like a dream come true. He decided to put a stop to his education and take up the job offer.
Collecting the money was not very easy though. Amin’s father sold off all the land that they owned. Amin’s acquaintance, a broker for the recruiting agency Golden Arrow, said that a further Tk 80,000 would be needed to ensure his job. Amin’s family had no way of coming up with this amount, so they ended up taking loans from their relatives. It was a good job, they thought, and they would be able to pay back the amount within a very short time.
Twenty-five-year-old Joynal Abedin who was supposed to appear for his degree final exams has a similar story to tell. Joynal who used to live in Naogaon worked for Unilever Bangladesh as a computer operator for two and a half years. The youngest of four brothers Joynal wanted to make it big as a businessman. But he knew that he could never save up enough money for a computer business with his Tk 5500 salary so he discussed with his parents and decided to sell off their family land for a start-up. When one of Joynal’s acquaintances came to know about his plans he convinced him not to invest in a business right then and go to Malaysia instead. He would be able to earn a lot more there and would be able to come back to Bangladesh after three years with a much higher start-up capital. He could arrange everything within one and a half lakh takas he said. But after a few days the sub-agent of the recruiting agency said that for another 80 thousand takas he could manage a very high-paying job at Sony Electronics as a computer operator. Joynal’s parents were happy to sell off the last bit of their land for their son if the agent could manage a respectable job for him.
But the Malaysian saga for Al Amin, Joynal Abedin and the 126 other migrants who travelled together was anything but a dream. The nightmare started at the Golden Arrow office in Banani on the day of their flight. The electricity went off and the migrants were asked to sign their contract forms by candlelight, although Amin swears that there was electricity in the rest of the neighbourhood. Even then they weren’t allowed to read through the form very thoroughly. The agents kept rushing them saying that they were getting late and would miss their flight if they delayed any further. The agents leafed through the contract forms themselves and just showed everyone where to sign. It was finally at the Zia International Airport (ZIA) that they could thoroughly read the forms themselves and found out that the actual job description was not in fact for a computer operator but a serviece workers.
The second blow came when they arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). For two days no one from the Malaysian outsourcing agency PTC Asia Pacific came to receive them from the airport. Exhausted and deprived of food the group of 128 finally showed their contract forms to the airport police and got in touch with the company through them. On the third day two women from PTC came and received the migrant workers from the airport and took them to Klang and put all the 128 men in one single room that according to the workers was a ‘godown’.
There were no sleeping or any other arrangements and only a single toilet for everyone. 128 people had to live on 10 kilos of rice for 2 days. They were given pulse and onions to cook khichuri for themselves. There was no work available for months. PTC Asia Pacific, which is an outsourcing agency stocked up on people and sent groups of five or 10 men when something became available. “I worked for four months,” says Joynal, “the first two as a cleaner in a computer company and the next two as a cleaner in a shopping mall.” He never received a penny. “I lived in Malaysia for seven months without a visa, medical certificate or work permit,” says Amin, “I cut down forest trees for two months and never received any salary.” Amin was shifted to 18 different locations in Malaysia and everywhere the living conditions were the same. “There were two people with beards in our group and they were forced to cut off their beards and were forced to do sit-ups holding their ears when they resisted,” says Amin, recounting the humiliating and inhuman treatment they received from the PTC employees, “we also had to go to jail several times because we didn’t have work permits.” In the contract form it said that they would be receiving 546RM per month for working eight hours a day with holidays and overtime. “We had to work for 14-16 hours at most times.”
When they showed the contract forms and demanded that the conditions be met the PTC officials tore them [the contract forms] off in front of them. Any complaints about the living conditions were met with threats and even beatings sometimes.
At one point 144 workers living in the same inhuman conditions got together and went to the Bangladesh High Commission in Kuala Lumpur to demand their rights. After three days the high commission promised that the workers would be transferred to another company from PTC within 15 days. “The Labour Counsellor told us to get into the car of the Bangladeshi agent and go back to where we came from and threatened to get us all arrested by the police,” says Joynal. The workers refused and asked to be taken somewhere near the high commission. But they were instead taken to another infamous Bangladeshi boarding in Port Dickson, according to Joynal the worst in Malaysia. “When we refused to go there,” says Joynal, “we were taken to two different places and then an NGO from Kanakani took our responsibility.” This human rights organisation Tenaganita said that it would take at least a month to transfer them to another company. But since there were no direct companies hiring staff, all of them being outsourcing companies Tenaganita could not ensure that the workers would get any permanent jobs. “We didn’t want to work in such an uncertain manner,” says Joynal, “we demanded that we all be sent back to Bangladesh and the money we paid to the recruiting agencies be returned to us.” The workers also filed a case with the labour court and asked that their six months salary also be paid to them.
The workers said that if their demands weren’t met within seven days they would go on a hunger strike till death. “Our trip to Malaysia had already killed us anyway,” says Joynal, “and we didn’t want to live like this any longer.”
At midnight on September 14 the middlemen from the recruiting agencies got together and attacked the workers on hunger strike while they were asleep. 30 of them were forcefully taken away from there. 300 police were sent to arrest the rest of the 80 striking workers. The police told them that the workers would be sent back to Bangladesh in a couple of days but they would be moved out from there. They were then taken away to Penang about eight hours away.
“There we found about 150 more Bangladeshi workers hired by Golden Arrow locked up in a room,” says Joynal, “they were crying through the windows and saying that they had also been promised jobs by Golden Arrow but were now trapped there with no work.”
The workers were terrified and begged and cried to be taken away from there. “A Golden Arrow representative suddenly came out of nowhere and said that they had fixed jobs for us and were going to take us in groups to different places but we cried and refused to go anywhere.”
The immigration police came and rescued them from there and the workers were then taken to a church where they stayed for some time. Secretary of the Expatriates’ Welfare Ministry Abdul Matin Chowdhury met with the workers there and promised to arrange their return to Bangladesh in three phases within 15 days with a full refund of the money taken from them. After coming back to Bangladesh the workers refused to leave ZIA for two days until they got their full payment back. Till the filing of this report only 20 workers have come back to Dhaka and they have only been given cheques for the official Tk 84,000 that Golden Arrow claims they received.
55-year-old Mahesh Sarker of Tangail died of cardiac arrest while waiting to return to his family. Joynal Abedin, Al Amin and the 18 others who came back are living with their relatives in Dhaka waiting for the full payment of their dues so that they can go back to their families. Although they were supposed to receive the money by October 3, it seems very unlikely that they will be able to do so any time soon. There will be another hearing on October 29.
In the 1970s there were only a few thousand migrant workers from Bangladesh. By 2002 the figure went up to more than three million, with about $23.7 billion being sent back in remittances over that period according to a report by The Daily Star. In the just ended fiscal year of 2006-2007, the expatriate Bangladeshis have remitted $5,984 million. The per capita amount that our migrant workers remitted is 33 per cent higher than those of India, which is the second largest remittance receiving country in the world. This strong inflow of remittance has raised the country’s foreign currency reserve to $5,098 million.
About 4.8 million Bangladeshis are currently working in more than 100 countries around the world, prominently in Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore Jordan, Libya Lebanon, Germany, Australia, Iran, Japan, Italy and Spain. The Global Economic Perspective Report of 2006 by the World Bank found that remittance flow has helped Bangladesh to cut poverty by 6 percent.
After the recent fiasco regarding the striking workers the Cabinet of the Malaysian government has decided to freeze the recruitment of Bangladeshi workers but it does not address nor resolve the problems in recruitment and management of migrant workers in the country. The middleman chain and undocumented financial transactions in manpower business needs to be looked at by both governments more closely to resolve the matter more comprehensively.
There are hundreds of thousands of workers living in appalling conditions all over Malaysia and Joynal and Amin say that they can physically identify all of them. The current practice of outsourcing has the elements of trafficking in persons. Workers are brought, their passports taken away, held in captivity, beaten and abused with no employment. There was gross misconduct in fact at all levels. The recruiting agency in Bangladesh, the outsourcing agency in Malaysia and the High Commission of Bangladesh in Malaysia must all be held accountable for the abuse and mismanagement that led to so much suffering for the hard-working men who bring in so much economic benefit to our country. It is amazing how the recruiting agency personnel with the connivance of the high commission staff who beat up the workers during their hunger strike are still going around scot-free while the workers are held inside rooms that are in fact worse than detention centres. These men entrusted their families’ last savings and in many cases borrowed money from other people to work hard in an unknown country so that their families could have better lives. It’s the money that is received from these men that have improved the country’s economic condition in the last few decades by unexpected levels. The government’s highest priority should be to attend to the welfare of these people. The neglect from the high commission is astounding. Now the least they can do is ensure they get their payments back and carry out in-depth investigations on the conditions the rest of the workers are living in, in Malaysia and in other countries.
Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2007