Wednesday, April 16, 2008

ALIRAN reiterates call for ABOLITION of RELA

Violence against refugees continues

Friday, 11 April 2008
Aliran 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 are here.

The cause of this ignorance is probably brought about by limited information and the negative views promoted by the mainstream news dailies and broadcast media, which is still under the complete control of the ruling Barisan Nasional government.

In our view, negative publicity that incites violence against any group of human beings by any party is unjust and by its nature, criminal, especially when the victims of such violence are defenceless and have not harmed anyone.

What have the on-going violent crackdowns by Rela gained for Malaysian society? It has obviously done nothing for Malaysia except to give us a bad image internationally as a cruel and heartless nation.

Have refugees from other countries undergoing internal political upheaval or conflict stopped coming here or has there been a reduction in numbers? No. It is in fact difficult to keep accurate count of these numbers. Even the UN refugee agency in Malaysia cannot be completely certain that statistics do not change everyday.

Refugee communities have repeatedly sent out press releases to non-governmental organisations to appeal for a stop to the arrest and detention of their community members, including pregnant women, mothers with babies, small children and minors. They have often described the cruel and inhuman treatment they experience at the hands of Rela and the abuse perpetrated in immigration detention centres. This abuse ranges from being beaten up, sexually abused, raped and financially extorted, to the whipping of minors.

Such acts, if committed by any other Malaysian citizen, would be seen as criminal. Yet when they are committed by those in authority - through the so-called ‘security forces’ like Rela - against helpless migrants and refugees, they very often go unnoticed and unpunished. The current Home Affairs Minister, Syed Hamid Albar, has not publicly taken a stand on this issue. Instead, the raids on these defenceless refugee communities have been stepped up, affecting even those officially recognised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and who have UNHCR documents to prove their status.

The issue of refugees is not a new one. It has in fact been an issue for over 30 years since the Vietnam War in the 1970s. Since then, other countries in the region have been gripped by turmoil and hardship, but few Malaysians are aware of the long-standing suffering in these countries. Do we think this does not affect us?

The excuse by the Government that treating refugees humanely is a ‘pull-factor’ for more to arrive on our shores is a fallacy. Neither ill-treatment nor deportation has served to stop the influx of migrants, whether documented or undocumented. The fundamental problem is the lack of a proper corruption- free immigration control system and clear- cut policies for different categories of migrants. The non-recognition of refugees and the lack of empathy for their plight have tarnished our image. The use of Rela only puts migrants and refugees as well as sections of the Malaysian public in fear because of the indiscriminate raids often carried out in the middle of the night.

Rela seems to be acting with impunity and getting away with acts of violence against migrants and refugees. This makes Malaysian society appear inhuman as it appears to overlook such gratuitous violence.

The recent denial of a two-thirds majority for the BN and the victories of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat in five states have shown us that we can bring about changes for the betterment of the country, if we want to.

Similarly, the rakyat can put pressure for the new Parliament to address the issue of migrants and refugees more seriously and to come up with more comprehensive and humane immigration policies, which would include the recognition of refugees by immigration authorities in this country.

Aliran also urges the rakyat to support calls for the federal government to ratify the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and other international human rights conventions. The public is also reminded that Malaysia is an elected member of the UN Human Rights Council and should live up to this role in the international community, instead of embarrassing us by being a notorious perpetrator of human rights violations.

Aliran again reiterates its support for calls by other civil society groups, including the Bar Council and Suara Rakyat Malaysia, for the abolition of Rela.

Aliran Executive Committee.

11 April 2008

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