The current crackdown on undocumented migrants is nothing new. Such operations have been taking place for years but the problems of human rights violations by immigration authorities and RELA continue with the constant influx of undocumented migrants. Amongst these are refugees and asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution and death in their home countries.
Despite the presence in Malaysia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, those given “protective” documentation continue to be harassed and victimised by police, immigration enforcement personnel and RELA.
The government’s answer to the problem of undocumented migrants is to resort to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. It seems to have found no other means of alleviating the problem nor has it made much effort in finding a more humane, workable solution.
Aliran is alarmed at recent reports of the cruel treatment of undocumented migrants. The recent high-handed raids on refugee colonies and the arrests and detentions those living there appear to be the tip of the iceberg
To what end does this denial of human rights serve? In the past, wave upon wave of migrants, documented and undocumented, arrived on Malaysian shores. Periodic crackdowns have proved futile; so what does the government hope to achieve by persisting with such methods?
The only solution the Malaysian government seems to have is to deploy bodies such as RELA, which appears to have been given carte blanche powers to harass and capture immigrants, indiscriminately, in whatever humiliating and violent way its deems fit. It cannot be denied that some groups of migrants get involved in criminal activities, whether out of desperation or for whatever reason, but that does not mean that all migrants are criminal by nature. Many work hard and contribute to our economy despite low wages and limited labour rights.
The migrant groups targeted by bodies such as RELA are often workers or refugees struggling to survive in destitute and impoverished conditions, as was the case at the Kampung Tengah Aceh refugee colony that was raided by RELA at the end of July. Were these refugees posing a threat to anyone? There have also been reports such as the Selayang Market incident where the bodies of five migrant workers were found in a mining pool not long after a RELA raid on the market on 11 February 2006.
Since 1 October, we have received reports that RELA has conducted raids at three different places where mostly Chin asylum seekers from Burma were staying. All the three raids were conducted around 3.00 and 4.00 am when most of them were asleep, and scores were arrested and detained. These refugees and asylum seekers face deportation to their home countries, where they are at risk of arbitrary detention, torture and death.
Reports of overcrowded detention centres and deaths of deportees have also emerged. Early October saw reports of the deaths of two young Filipino girls who had been deported. They apparently died from health complications arising from malnutrition. There have also been reports of similar deaths in the past during deportation to the Philippines.
These child migrant deaths arising from malnutrition indicate a lack of proper nutrition during their detention. We welcome Suhakam’s move to visit the Menggatal detention centre as part of its inquiry into the deaths. But a broader inquiry is required to look into how migrants are harassed and detained by groups such as RELA and the conditions at all detention centres. In particular, Suhakam should probe the findings contained in Amnesty International’s 2006 Report that “there were periodic reports of abuses and the authorities failed to provide adequate medical care, food and clean water in some detention centres and police cells”.
Further, despite the widely publicised fact of over-crowded detention centres, the crackdowns continue, and more and more detainees are crammed into these places. Regrettably, Home Affairs Minister Radzi Sheik Ahmad observed, “If they have to sleep on floors right next to one another, so be it.” However, he continued, “But we do not feel nice about making them do this, so we need to find more space for them.”
The Minister’s remarks indicate a lack of political will and compassion to solve this problem constructively without resorting to human rights abuse. What happens in detention centres is frequently not made public until a neighbouring government decides to investigate complaints from repatriated migrants.
Aliran urges the government to halt these futile crackdowns and indiscriminate detentions, especially of those confirmed by the UNHCR to be genuine refugees and asylum seekers. The government should instead repair Malaysia’s tarnished human rights image.
We remind the government that as a member of the United Nations, Malaysia is obliged to uphold and respect the terms and provisions of the United Nations Charter in the promotion and protection of human rights of all people, even if Malaysia has not ratified the 1951 Refugees Convention.
Further, these violations of human rights are incompatible with Malaysia’s membership of the UN Human Rights Council and the government’s pledge to uphold and support human rights on acceptance of membership of this world body.
Aliran Executive Committee
19 October 2006