Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Burma-Malaysia detainee swap absurd and unacceptable

Under Mahathir, I believe that Malaysia was certainly more caring and would not send back Burmese in Malaysia back to Burma because everyone understood the persecution and conditions in Burma  under the ruling regime - and knew that most Burmese in Malaysia, save for maybe those that came as documented migrant workers, are really refugees or asylum seekers in fact.

So, even when people from Burma were arrested and detained by reason of being 'undocumented', Malaysia did not deport them back to Burma as was being done with nationals of other countries. Malaysia took them to the Thai-Malaysia border and released them...and most of them would not go back to Burma, but stay in Thailand or just cross back into Malaysia. The preferential treatment accorded to people was Burma was just an understanding of Malaysia that it would be very wrong and unjust to just hand them who flee persecution of regime that has refused to even hand over to democratically elected Aung San Su Kyi and her party (we are not talking of that recent 'election' which really is a sham).
A few years ago, some highlighted that some immigration officers involved in the 'deportation exercise' of Burmese migrants at the Thai-Malaysian border were allegedly involved in the 'human trafficking' trade - and the victims were these migrants from Burma - Lot of attention - lot of protest. Malaysia then stopped this practice or 'special treatment' of migrants from Burma, and resorted to the same treatment - but the Burmese regime was not as enthusiastic to get their people back to Burma as other countries, and likewise many persons in detention were not at all wanting to go back to Burma (can we really blame them?) - and the Malaysian government also was not really pushing....End result was that the Burmese numbers in detention increased - and now they may be the largest number in many immigration detention centers..

Suddenly, the Malaysian government seem to have become less caring and is talking about a detainee swap deal with Burma...

This, not only, is shocking but will shatter Malaysia's image locally and internationally - this is Burma that we are talking about.... 

Prisoner exchanges - when a person breaks a law in a country - he is tried, convicted and sentenced according to the laws of that country, so taking Malaysians serving their sentence in another country to serve the remaining prison sentence is really not right, is it. Remember we are not talking about 'prisoner of war' exchanges between 2 countries at war (or were at war).... so we have to be very careful when it comes to taking a position on things like this 'detainee swap' deals...

Outcry over Myanmar-Msia detainee swap

Stephanie Sta Maria | October 18, 2011 (Free Malaysia Today)

Sending detainees back to Myanmar is akin to sending them to their possible deaths, says Human rights groups.

PETALING JAYA: Human rights advocates and the Myanmar community are reeling from the government’s proposal of a detainee swap between Malaysia and Myanmar.

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein met with Myanmar deputy foreign minister U Maung Myint in Parliament yesterday after which the proposal was announced.

The move is to reduce the number of Myanmar detainees currently in detention centres here.

The news has sent shockwaves through the Myanmar community here especially among those whose friends and family are among the 1,000 Myanmar detainees.

The Shan Refugees Organisation (SRO) has called it “terrible news” and is frantically trying to gather as much details as possible on the issue.

“It’s not supposed to be this way,” said an SRO spokesperson who asked to remain anonymous. “The possibility of persecution is awaiting those who are sent back.”

While Hishammudin said details will be discussed when the newly formed working committee between both governments meet next week, the SRO said it would be perilous to wait that long.

“We cannot afford to wait until a concrete decision is made,” said the spokesperson. “We will be meeting NGOs including Suaram, Tenaganita and the Bar Council to seek advice over the matter.”

Suaram backed up SRO’s point that sending the detainees back to their homeland was to return them to the danger from which they had fled in the first place.

“By sending them back Malaysia is giving recognition to the cruellest, most undemocratic and tyrannical regime in the region,” Suaram coordinator, Andika Abdul Wahab, told FMT.

“It’s a breach of the international customary law of non-refoulement which prohibits the return of people to places where they may face persecution or threats to their life or freedoms.”

‘End barbaric treatment of detainess’

Andika warned that following through on this proposal would bring great shame to Malaysia as a founder of ASEAN and a member of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR).

With such a standing, he said, Malaysia should instead be leading Myanmar in showing respect for human rights rather than endangering human lives.

Andika also dismissed Myanmar’s recent release of 120 out of 6,000 prisoners as non-reflective of human rights, freedom and peace being restored there.

“Myanmar’s on-going civil wars have forced its people to seek international protection outside the country,” he said. “As such a majority of Myanmar detainees could be refugees.”

“We urge the Malaysian government to drop the proposal and allow UNHCR immediate access to detention centres in order process asylum claims and release the genuine refugees.”

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) also had stern words for the proposal. Its deputy director for Asia, Phil Robertson, pointed out that despite the various indications of political progress in Myanmar, its government continues to abuse ethnic minorities and political dissidents.

“Before jumping forward with yet another poorly thought out swap scheme Hishammudin should publicly commit that all Myanmar detainees will be given the right to make a refugee claim if they fear being prosecuted in their country,” he said. “And the UNHCR must be given unfettered access to adjudicate those claims.”

Robertson added that if the Myanmar government really wanted to protect its nationals, then it should demand that Malaysia immediately cease caning male migrants held for violating immigration laws.

“Caning is a form of torture and the Myanmar government should call for an end to this barbaric treatment of its citizens,” he stated - Free Malaysia Today, 18/10/2011,Outcry over Myanmar-Msia detainee swap

Tuesday October 18, 2011

Myanmar and Malaysia to swap detainees


MYANMAR illegals held at Immigration depots will be sent back home in a detainee exchange programme.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the programme would also see Malaysians detained in Myanmar returning to the country.

“There are currently 1,000-odd Myanmar nationals detained in the depots. But the number to be sent back has yet to be confirmed.

“Officials from both countries will be meeting next week to start working on the details of the exchange,” he told reporters after meeting Myanmar deputy foreign minister U Maung Myint in Parliament.

Hishammuddin also said that he could not confirm the number of Malaysians to be sent back from Myanmar.

He said the joint initiative would reduce crowding in the depots and showed the close relationship between both countries.

“If we can carry out such an exchange with Myanmar, I don’t see why we can’t do the same with other countries,” Hishammuddin said.

He added that Myanmar nationals were the third highest number of immigrants registered under the ministry’s 6P programme, with a total of 257,000 in Malaysia.

A total of 2.3 million foreigners registered under the programme, of which 1.3 million were illegals.

Hishammuddin said the detainee exchange programme was important in principle as it could help combat crime across borders, among other benefits.

“We have also set up a joint working committee with Myanmar to discuss issues of concern periodically,” he said, adding that the committee would consist of relevant agencies.

On the refugee swap deal with Australia, Hishammuddin said the ministry would be meeting with Australian authorities to discuss the matter next month.Star, 18/10/2011, , Myanmar and Malaysia to swap detainees

October 17, 2011 17:10 PM

Malaysia, Myanmar Eye Swapping Immigration Detainees
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 17 (Bernama) -- Malaysia and Myanmar are mulling over the possibility of implementing an exchange programme for immigration detainees, said Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.

He said there were currently around 1,000 Myanmar nationals at detention centres in this country. However, the number of Malaysian immigration detainees in Myanmar was not made available.

"It'll help reduce the numbers in our detention camps and show a good relationship between Malaysia and Myanmar in relation to immigration and movement of workers in the region," he told reporters after receiving Myanmar's Deputy Foreign Minister U Maung Myint (HE) here, today.

About 257,000 Myanmar nationals had registered under the "6P" programme, of which 144,098 were illegals immigrants. The programme is a massive legalisation and amnesty exercise for illegal immigrants conducted by Malaysian authorities.

"Since not all of them (Myanmar illegal immigants) will be employed, cooperation between both countries is important to ensure that the repatriation process runs smoothly," Hishammuddin said.

Hishammuddin said Malaysia and Myanmar would establish a joint working committee to address immigration as well as crime-related issues involving the two countries. It is expected to hold its first meeting next week.

Elaborating, the minister said Kuala Lumpur would cooperate closely with Myanmar to tackle cross-border crimes involving drugs, weapons and human trafficking.

"The issue of fraudulent travel documents is also in our focus, with 46 cases involving Myanmar nationals detected last year as well as 13 cases up till August this year," Hishammuddin said.
-- BERNAMA, 17/10/2011, Malaysia, Myanmar Eye Swapping Immigration Detainees 
Some civil society gropups have responded vide a Joint Media Statement



We, the undersigned organizations who work closely with refugees and asylum seekers from Burma living in Malaysia, express our deep concern over two recent immigration related developments that jeopardize­­ the security of refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.

Firstly, whilst we laud the government for considering the issue of over-crowding at the detention centres, the detainee swap initiative between the Malaysian and Burmese government is not the appropriate solution to the problem.  In fact, it could potentially  put the lives of refugee and asylum seeker detainees at risk.

Ethnic and religious minorities in Burma have been experiencing ongoing persecution leading to the exodus of several hundreds of thousands of people  over the past twenty years fleeing oppressive conditions of forced labor, confiscation of lands/homes, systematic rape, torture and other forms of religious and ethnic persecution.  The majority of the population from Burma in Malaysia are persons fleeing such persecution.

Under the Malaysian Immigration Act 1959/1963, refugees and asylum seekers too are detained in immigration detention centres. Unlike migrants, refugees and asylum seekers have a well-founded fear of persecution in their homeland; hence they flee their country of origin and cannot return home. The principle of non-refoulement in  Article 33 (1) of the 1951 Refugee Convention states that: "No Contracting State shall expel or return ('refouler') a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion." The deportation arising from the swap with Burma  for immigration detainees  contravenes this principle because of  the presence of detainees in detention centres who are potentially refugees and asylum seekers.

Secondly, during the registration of the 6P programme, it was highlighted that some refugee applicants received a “Slip Pendaftaran PATI,” which contained a line that said “Tujuan :Pulang ke Negara Asal” (Intention: Return to Home Country). This is despite the fact that they are refugees who are recognized by UNHCR. We call on the government to immediately rectify this error to prevent refugees from being refouled. We urge the government to recognize that any registration of refugees must be done in full collaboration with UNHCR, within a framework that will recognize and protect the rights of refugees.

We therefore call on the government to:
1.       Work in close collaboration with UNHCR to ascertain and immediately release individuals who are refugees and especially asylum seekers who have yet to lodge an asylum claim with UNHCR in the detention centres.
2.       Provide access to lawyers and NGOs to detention centres to represent detainees who seek to lodge an asylum claim.
3.       Immediately rectify the errors in the 6P registration process of refugees and asylum seekers and cooperate fully with UNHCR to establish a framework for the recognition of the rights refugees. 

Endorsed by:
1. Health Equity Initiatives (HEI)
2. Lawyers for Liberty (LFL)
3. Women's Aid Organisation (WAO)
4. Tenaganita
6. Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI)

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