The mass arrests and detentions of migrants, refugees and stateless persons in Malaysia have begun.
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
They live from day to day in fear, not knowing where they will be the next day, fearing raids in the dark hours of the morning. There is no way to make a decent living or to live with human dignity, even here in Malaysia. Seen as ‘undocumented’ and ‘illegal’ under Malaysian immigration laws, they have no rights, not even the basic right to life. Angeline Loh describes the heart-rending plight of the “invisible” refugees in Malaysia.
would like to bring to public attention the continuing violence
perpetrated against migrants and refugees in this country. It is
amazing that the public at large is still ignorant of all this human
rights violation happening right under our noses. Moreover, most of
the Malaysian public remain ignorant of who refugees are or why they
group of Burmese Zomi refugees was raided by Rela and Sepang
Municipal Council enforcers on 21 January 2008 (NST,
24 Jan.2008). According to a Zomi spokesperson, about 34 enforcement
personnel allegedly "rushed into" the Zomi refugee camp in
Putrajaya and torched it, severely diminishing the supplies of basic
necessities on which the Zomi refugees depended for survival.
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.