Sunday, January 27, 2008

Time to close down RELA for good .....burning homes and property?

Until we put an end to this volunteer corps and insist that enforcement of laws with regard to migrants/refugees be left with the professional law enforcers, i.e. the full-time public servants, we will see this vigilante group called RELA out there committing all kinds of attrocities.....

Migrants and refugees are HUMANs - let us not forget this.

Conflicting accounts of Rela raid on refugees
Fauwaz Adbul Aziz | Jan 26, 08 9:59am

Did they or did they not burn down a makeshift tent settlement in Putrajaya in which Burmese asylum seekers - including about 20 women and children - had taken refuge the past four years?

Conflicting answers met this and several other questions following a joint operation on undocumented migrants by the People’s Volunteer Corps (Rela) and the Sepang Municipal Council (MPS).

About four years ago, more than 70 Zomi refugees from the northern region of Chin State in Burma have lived as a community of sorts in makeshift tents somewhere within the jungle fringes of Putrajaya.

Subjected from time to time to raids by Rela - the previous one being in November last year - most had managed to escape arrest.

They survived on the earning of members of the community who had found informal work and pooled their meager wages to feed the others.

Tents were destroyed

On Jan 18 this year, Rela and MPS enforcement personnel conducted a joint operation on the settlement.

A New Straits Times report on the raid against the settlement - dubbed ‘Kampung Tengga Zomi - two Zomis were caught in the dragnet while the rest escaped into the surrounding jungle.

When they returned to their tents, they were shocked to find several had been burnt to the ground together with some other items.

According to the Kuala Lumpur-based Zomi Burmese, the burnt items included plastic sheets for shelter, pots and pans for cooking, donated articles of clothing and food rations, as well as Christian Bibles.

“All of these were reduced to ashes " said Thang Khawm Pau, a Zomi refugee himself, when contacted.

He supported his assertions by supplying photographs of the scorched pages of the Bible and the Zomis’ burnt tents.

Blasting Rela for the incident, the Chiang Mai, Thailand, office of the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) said today it was only “the latest of many well-documented acts of abuse committed by the authorities against the refugee community in Malaysia.”

“For a community already living on the margins of survival, the consequences are devastating,” it said in a statement.

Rela director-general Zaidon Asmuni (right), however, denied that any burning of tents or other items had taken place during the operation.

“We never commit such acts as burning the possessions (of undocumented migrants),” said Zaidon when contacted.

Zaidon suggested that ‘accidents’ may occur during such operations in the melee of fleeing migrants and enforcement personnel chasing after them.

Two separate operations

He reiterated, however, that this last operation by Rela did not result in the burning of the Burmese possessions.

When contacted, an MPS spokesperson said the council has no information on allegations that any burnings had occurred.

Adding to the questions, however, is the claim contained in the New Straits Times that the raid was conducted not last Friday - as asserted by the MPS spokesperson - but last Monday, Jan 21.

Lending strength to this possibility is the admission by Zaidon that two raids were conducted by Rela.

“There were actually two separate operations,” he said in a mobile text message to Malaysiakini.

He could not confirm, however, if the second raid had in fact occurred on Jan 21.

Pau said all the Zomi women and children who used to live in the settlement had been given shelter by a church-based NGO that assists refugees.

There are over 23,000 asylum seekers and refugees from Burma's Chin State living in Malaysia. Of them, Zomis account for about 7,000.

2008/01/24 NST
Struggling to survive in transit
By : Deborah Loh
The illegal Myammar settlement on the fringes of Putrajaya. (Inset) An  illegal settler taking his turn on the ‘guard tower’.   — NST picture by Ramdzan Masiam
The illegal Myammar settlement on the fringes of Putrajaya. (Inset) An illegal settler taking his turn on the ‘guard tower’. — NST picture by Ramdzan Masiam

PUTRAJAYA: A group of Myanmar refugees, fleeing uncertainty in their homeland, have set up an illegal settlement on the fringes of Putrajaya.

Living in makeshift huts in a secondary forest near Pre-cinct 14 and 15, their days are spent dodging raids by Rela and scraping together money from odd jobs at construction sites nearby.

Kampung Tengga Zomi -- Tengga named after a nearby village on the other side of the hill and Zomi, which is the name of their ethnic tribe -- is home to about 80 Myanmar Zomi people who left their country hoping for resettlement in a new land. They came here four years ago.

Malaysia is a transit point while they wait for refugee cards issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and for placement in another country.

Until then, the UNHCR here does not have the means, nor permission, from the government to provide them housing, and so they are left to fend for themselves.
Waiting is risky. The government does not recognise refugees, nor does it accept the UNHCR card.

The refugees are considered illegal immigrants and can be detained for trial and deportation.

Settlement leader, Khai Pian Thang, 30, accepts this as fate.

"We know we are wrong because we don't have passports. I don't blame Rela for conducting raids as there are laws in this country.

"Yet, life here is better than in Myanmar.

"If we get caught and locked up, we still have ways to be in touch with our community.

"If you are locked up in Myanmar, it is forever. No one knows about you anymore," Khai said in Bahasa Malaysia, which he picked up after arriving here in 2005.

Khai's settlement was raided on Monday in a joint operation by Rela and Sepang Municipal Council officers.

All but two of the refugees managed to flee into the surrounding jungle.

When the rest returned to their camp after the raid, they found six of their 20 huts burnt. It was Rela's second raid after one in November.

The New Straits Times visited the settlement yesterday.

It lies less than a kilometre off a main tarred road up a small hill inside the forest.

On the approach is a "guard tower" where the refugees take turns to man.

The makeshift huts straddle a now dried-up stream.

River water is dammed up in a small self-dug reservoir further up and channelled down to the settlement.

Khai said the 80 people in the settlement are supported by 20 of them who do odd jobs at nearby construction sites.

"Each person works about four hours a week and earns about RM20. The construction boss does not dare to give us more work as we are illegals.

"We do things like picking up stones or washing drains.

"We pool the money to buy food," he said.

Khai said the latest group of 10 Zomi refugees arrived in December after the "saffron revolution" when thousands of monks marched in defiance of the ruling junta.

Zomi tribe members have been arriving in batches over the past few years, helped by an existing network of refugees scattered across Thailand, Malaysia and India.

Khai said police had visited the settlement at least five times to warn them to "live quietly and not cause trouble".

Police sources here said although the settlement was on the fringes of Putrajaya, its location was within the Sepang border.

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