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The Malaysian government should scrap plans to expand a state-sponsored security force of civilian volunteers with a long record of human rights abuses against refugees and migrants, Amnesty International said.

Ikatan Relawan Rakyat, commonly known as Rela, aims to expand its membership from 1.6 million to 2.6 million by the end of the year, according to an interview given to the Associated Press by the organisation’s Director-General Zaidon Asmuni. However, Asmuni also said Rela would be unable to thoroughly train more than 8,000 new officers per year.

Amnesty International documented in two reports in 2010 how Rela volunteers regularly engage in physical abuse and extortion, and indiscriminately detained those with the legal right to be in the country.

“Rela agents are responsible for the most rampant human rights abuses against migrants and refugees in Malaysia,” said Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific Director at Amnesty International.

“Instead of curbing their abuses, the government plans to let loose a million more ill-trained civilians with police powers.”

Rela is a civilian volunteer corps, but the government authorises it to exercise police functions, including raiding, interrogating and detaining suspected illegal immigrants. Some Rela members are authorized to carry firearms.

Rela’s Director-General stated that new recruits will again be involved in the guarding of immigration detention centres, which has not been carried out on a large scale since mid-2009.

“Last year the Malaysian government promised Amnesty International that Rela would be stripped of its highly-criticised role in immigration enforcement, so it is very disappointing to see the force being handed back powers over immigration detention centres,” said Sam Zarifi.

Amnesty International has found that Rela lacks a clear structure of command responsibility, allowing Rela members to commit abuses without being held accountable.

19 August 2010

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The Asean Committee for Migrant Workers (ACMW) Drafting Committee meets in Kuala Lumpur on 7 and 8 December 2009, hosted by the Ministry of Human Resources. The ACMW Drafting Committee comprising Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines, is in the process of drafting a Framework Instrument on the protection and promotion of migrant workers rights for Asean, in line with the principle affirmed by the ten Asean states, under the Bangkok Declaration on Irregular Migration 1999 and the Asean Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.

Under the Bangkok Declaration, “regular migration and irregular migration should not be considered in isolation from each other”, and “migration, particularly irregular migration, should be addressed in a comprehensive and balanced manner, considering its causes, manifestations and effects, both positive and negative, in the countries of origin, transit and destination.”

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