Thursday, February 12, 2009

Abolish RELA - RELA only brings shame to Malaysia

Make them full-time salaried public servants...

Pay them a decent monthly wages and other benefits of being a government employee - including pension entitlement, etc

Then, there will be no protest about this RELA - which is merely a volunteer corp - which has been given powers that even the police and other public servants do not have, and also protection from the law that even the police and other public servants may not have. And this is what makes it so wrong.

But still, our cheap-skate Malaysian BN government is not going to expend money and hire more police personnel and immigration enforcement officers...they prefer to keep using the RELA as all they need to do is pay peanuts. The government can also be able to 'dump them' when they do not need them anymore. And with the number of RELA members being about 500,000 today - it is politically advantageous as long as the BN personalities stay influential in this movement.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamid Albar has dismissed any move to disband Rela.

Although he did not deny some of the allegations of abuse by Rela officers, he said the bad apples did not reflect the 500,000-strong movement serving as a support unit for the various enforcement agencies, including the Immi-gration Department.

“I do not deny some of the allegations (of abuse) although it is done by one or two personnel only.

“But this does not reflect the whole organisation,” he said in his speech at the 37th Hari Rela celebrations here launched by Chief Minister Datuk Musa Aman.

However, Syed Hamid cautioned Rela members to maintain their professionalism when taking action.

This was to avoid non-governmental organisations from repeatedly calling on the Government to disband the organisation, claiming that the movement members were untrained, fierce and unprofessional when discharging their duties.

He warned that action would be taken against any Rela officer or personnel who failed to follow procedures or acted against the law.

Syed Hamid said Rela members should be firm but polite when acting against illegal immigrants.

He pointed out that such cases were mainly immigration offences and that they were not dealing with criminals like murderers or robbers.

“I believe the illegals detained would give their cooperation and there was no need to speak rudely, get angry or even slap them,” he said - Star, 9/2/2009, Rela won’t be disbanded

1,300 migrants died in custody over the past 6 years...

ABOUT 1,300 illegal foreigners have died during detention in the past six years, Malaysia Nanban quoted Malaysian Human Rights (Suhakam) commissioner Datuk N. Siva Subramaniam as saying.

He said many of them died in immigration detention centres, prisons and police lockups because they were denied medical treatment at the right time. - Source: see earlier posting, About 1,300 migrants in detention died because 'denied medical treatment at the right time..."

And guess what - the Malaysian government has just asked RELA to be in charge of these Detention Centres - and do we expect these volunteers to improve the conditions of detention centres - or cause more detainees to die...

The shame that the continued existence of RELA brings to Malaysia is something Malaysians are fed up with...

Human rights groups have accused Malaysia of mistreating millions of foreign workers who live there, as well as asylum-seekers, including thousands from nearby Myanmar, which is under military rule.

Human Rights Watch had singled out a government-backed volunteer force in Malaysia known as RELA for allegedly beating, threatening and extorting money from migrants and asylum-seekers. - AFP, 12/2/2009, Malaysia under fire at UN over refugees

There are so many other volunteer corps - there are police volunteers, military volunteers, rukun tetangga (neighbourhood watch), civil defence volunteers - we really do not need this RELA - a creation during the Emergency era in Malaysia.

RELA - British Newspapers

But following an incident late last year, American Wayne Wright is far from convinced by the promise of Malaysian hospitality and the claim of its tourism slogan that it is truly Asia.

"I was walking in Chinatown," he told the BBC, "when a gentleman in very scruffy type clothes, nothing that you would associate with police or anyone in authority, walked up to me and asked me, "Can I see your passport?"."

Fearing a scam, Mr Wright refused and tried to move away.

"At that point he essentially lunged at me, grabbed me, put handcuffs on me really tightly and called for a few other people out in the crowd," he explained.

Mr Wright, a serving US Navy lawyer, says he protested that he was a US citizen and told the men who had grabbed him that his passport was in his hotel room, a matter of a few hundred meters away.

He was taken, shackled, through Chinatown and put into a caged truck used by the Malaysian immigration department.

'Worst experience'

There he met a second American, who had also been grabbed by men who refused to show any identification, Yahweh Passim Nam.

It became abundantly clear to Mr Wright and Mr Nam they had more in common than their nationality. Both they and every one of the 30 or so other people arrested in the same raid were black.

Wayne Wright
This was probably the worst experience I have had in my life
Wayne Wright

"At this time I'm knowing this is racial profiling, beyond a shadow of a doubt," said Mr Nam, an ex-US Navy serviceman and now a multi media engineer living in Vancouver, Canada.

"This is definitely some screwed up mission by some... militant group, trying to get Africans to take us somewhere," he said, adding that he feared for his life.

They were taken to an immigration detention centre where for almost 24 hours they say they were fed only bread and water, not allowed to go to the toilet and refused permission to contact the US embassy.

"I was treated inhumanely," said Mr Nam. "I felt like a dog, I felt like something worse than a dog."

Mr Wright agrees. "Honestly this was probably the worst experience I have had in my life," he said.

Both say that, when they were finally freed, immigration officers treated the matter as a joke, something that incensed them.

Morality patrol

Malaysia's Head of Immigration Enforcement Ishak Mohamad was approached by the BBC for comment, but was unavailable.

Nor would the prime minister's department comment, although a senior official privately cast doubt on the accounts of the two men.

Yahweh Passim Nam
Both Mr Nam (pictured) and Mr Wright had legitimate tourist visas

However not only do they appear to bear one another out, but they are also backed up by the US embassy, which confirmed it provided consular assistance to have them released from custody. No charges were filed against the men.

The incident does not appear to be isolated.

Several Africans approached on the streets of Kuala Lumpur by the BBC over the issue reported facing discrimination in Malaysia, whether it be people refusing to sit next to them on public transport, taxis refusing to stop for them through to harassment by police and immigration officers. - BBC, 3/1/2007 - Incidents may mar Malaysia's tourism bid

In the US papers - the New York Times

A Growing Source of Fear for Migrants in Malaysia

Greg Constantine for the International Herald Tribune

About 20 ethnic Kachin from Myanmar, many of them illegal, share this apartment in Kuala Lumpur.

Published: December 10, 2007

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — When his turn comes to stand watch, Kang Long posts himself at a window, peering into the dark streets outside the tiny apartment where his fellow migrant workers sleep 10 to a room.

Greg Constantine for The International Herald Tribune

Kang Long, a refugee in Malaysia, says he lives in fear of immigration raids.

“We always fear, especially at night,” he said. “Maybe there will be a raid. Where will we run? I worry for my wife and children. I’ve been thinking of moving to the jungle.”

Mr. Kang Long, 43, is an ethnic Chin refugee from Myanmar, one of as many as three million foreign workers whose labor on farms, factories and construction sites and in service industries supports the economy of this bustling Southeast Asian nation. About half are estimated to be here illegally.

Like foreign workers elsewhere, they are resented by many local people and demonized by politicians. Here in Malaysia they have become the targets of an expanding campaign of harassment, arrest, whippings, imprisonment and deportation.

In 2005, the government transformed a volunteer self-defense corps, created in the 1960s to guard against Communists, into a strike force deputized to hunt down illegal immigrants.

This force, called Rela, now numbers nearly half a million mostly untrained volunteers — more than the total number of Malaysia’s military and police in this nation of 27 million. Its leaders are armed and have the right to enter a home or search a person on the street without a warrant. By an official count, its uniformed volunteers carry out 30 to 40 raids a night.

As it takes over more police and prison duties, Rela is drawing the condemnation of local and foreign human rights groups. They accuse the volunteers, some as young as 16, of violence, extortion, theft and illegal detention.

“They break into migrant lodgings in the middle of the night without warrants, brutalize inhabitants, extort money and confiscate cellphones, clothing, jewelry and household goods, before handcuffing migrants and transporting them to detention camps for illegal immigrants,” Human Rights Watch said in a report in May.

They often fail to honor legitimate documentation and sometimes destroy documents in order to justify their actions, the group said.

In an interview, Rela’s director-general, Zaidon Asmuni, dismissed the concerns of human rights groups, saying the nation’s security was at stake, and demanded an aggressive defense. “We have no more Communists at the moment, but we are now facing illegal immigrants,” he said. “As you know, in Malaysia illegal immigrants are enemy No. 2.” Enemy No. 1, he says, is drugs.

Illegal immigrants, if caught, are brought before a judge for a trial. If convicted, they face up to five years in jail and a whipping, then deportation.

Some of the migrants, like Mr. Kang Long from Myanmar, are refugees registered with the United Nations, but Malaysia has not signed the United Nations refugee convention. So those migrants are also caught up in the sweeps.

According to the accounts of a dozen migrants, things can get even worse once they are deported. After serving time in a detention center, they say, many are taken to a no man’s land near the border with Thailand where human traffickers await their arrival.

If they can pay about $450, the migrants say, the traffickers will smuggle them back to Kuala Lumpur. If they cannot pay, they may be sold as laborers to fishing boats or forced into the sex trade.

Irene Fernández, a Malaysian who heads a local migrants’ rights group called Tenaganita, said victims sometimes called from the border begging for money to pay the traffickers. “It’s a conflict for us because we cannot support any form of trafficking,” she said. “At the same time, protection of life is equally important.”

The best she can honorably do, she said, is to notify the immigrant communities in Kuala Lumpur, where people often barely have enough money to feed themselves, and hope they can find the means to save their friends.

Terrorized by Rela, many of the migrants have left their apartments in the city and built shacks of leaves and branches in the surrounding jungle. But Rela pursues them there as well, the migrants say.

“Some jungle sites are periodically cleared by local authorities, the inhabitants are displaced, valuables taken away, and at times shelters are burned to the ground,” the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said in a recent report.

Despite the criticisms, Rela — an acronym for the Malay words for People’s Volunteer Corps — has been expanding in numbers and in law enforcement powers. As of November, it had screened 156,070 people this year and had detained 30,332 for not having travel documents, according to the home affairs minister, Radzi Sheikh Ahmad.

In the interview, Mr. Zaidon, the Rela director general, said his organization was expanding so fast that it was impossible to train most of the volunteers or to carry out background checks before deputizing them to make arrests.

“We cannot train half a million just like that,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process. It will take time, 5 or 10 years.”

If Rela members were overly scrupulous about human rights, he said, they could not do their job. “To stop a person by the roadside, that is also against human rights,” he said. “But if you talk about human rights, you cannot talk about security.”

The volunteers cast a wide net as they stop and search people who look like Asian foreigners. Most migrant workers come from Indonesia, while others come from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Vietnam as well as from Myanmar, formerly Burma.

In October, the Indonesian government protested when Rela detained an Indonesian student and the wife of an Indonesian diplomat. In both cases, Indonesia said, the victims produced documents that the volunteers ignored.

Most of Rela’s targets, though, are people like Ndawng Lu, 59, an ethnic Kachin refugee from Myanmar who shares an apartment with 20 other people.

Her neighbors fled and she remained alone when Rela made a daytime raid earlier this year, she said. “They shouted at me, ‘Where’s the money?’” she said. “I got down on my knees and begged them. ‘I don’t have any money.’ But they wanted money. They pulled stuff from under the bed. They looked here, they looked there. They opened all our bags.”

Her documents were in order, she said, and the search party left her with the mess. - New York Times, 10/12/2007 ,A Growing Source of Fear for Migrants in Malaysia
Al-Jazeera ..

Malaysia's war on illegals

Rela has wide-ranging powers to search
and arrest suspected illegal workers

It is 2am on a Sunday morning, and a unit of Rela, Malaysia's volunteer corps, is preparing for action.

Their destination: ramshackle dormitories on a construction site. Their mission: to round up and arrest illegal immigrants.

Rela is a volunteer force of ordinary Malaysian citizens. In uniform they are authorised to search, seize and arrest without warrant or explanation.
Some are armed.

This wide-ranging authority has led to Rela members being accused of abuse of power, harassment and in some cases, corruption.

Ambiga Sreenevasan, president of the Malaysian Bar Council, says such allegations cannot be ignored.

'Gangster tactics'

In a country with a population of 27 million, she says, Rela has a membership of about 500,000.

"That's a frightening prospect because what they're doing is they're going into premises, there are cases where they have broken in, they've used gangster tactics and we are very concerned with the human rights abuses."

Rela has around 500,000
volunteers across Malaysia

On the mission Al Jazeera followed, Rela commanders were keen to demonstrate that everything was above board.

But since Rela's powers were expanded almost two years ago there have been a chorus of complaints and allegations of abuse.

Za Uk Ling, a Burmese national working legally in Malaysia, recently fell victim to a Rela squad.

"Right before they got me into the van, I resisted and they were about to beat me," he says.

"I was lucky enough that one immigration officer was present and she told them not to use violence because there were a lot of people watching."

The Malaysian government and Rela bosses are quick to admit that there have been some problems but, they insist, only from a few rogue elements.

"Maybe one or two did that, I am not denying that," says Zaidon Bin Haji Asmuni, Rela's director-general.

"But that's a very small percentage compared to what Rela has actually done."

And the government says what is more important is that Rela is proving effective in countering what they call Malaysia's second most important security challenge - illegal immigration.


Human rights groups have condemned
alleged abuses by Rela members

Most Rela volunteers, too, believe that illegal foreigners are to blame for what they say is a rising national crime rate.

They believe these illegal workers are taking jobs away from deserving Malaysians and must be arrested.

With a small force of about 1,600 personnel, Malaysia's immigration department says it is dependent on Rela's help.

"Since the start of the year, Rela has arrested 15,000 illegal migrants," says Ishak bin Mohamed, Malaysia's immigration enforcement director.

"If we only had the immigration police force to rely on, we would not even be able to arrest 10,000 illegal aliens in a year. So Rela has been a major help to the immigration department."

On the raid Al Jazeera followed more than 100 men were arrested.

Those that fail to produce proper legal documentation face possible whipping and will be deported.


The government says Rela is vital
to controlling illegal immigration

The government pays Rela the equivalent of about $25 for every illegal immigrant it finds.

Irene Fernandez of Tenaganita, a migrant workers' rights group, says such incentives only encourage Rela members to "go all out" and arrest as many suspected illegal workers as possible, despite the fact that volunteers have little or no training.

"It's a very racist kind of perception that all migrant workers are a threat to Malaysia," she says.

With growing allegations of abuse, human rights groups say Rela has become a vigilante force and are calling for the government to review the group's operations.

Rather than relying on a volunteer force to round up suspected illegals, they say what is needed is stronger action against employers who knowingly hire them. - Al-Jazeera, 25/5/2007 , Malaysia's war on illegals

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