Thursday, 2 October 2008

'The Revolving Door': Plight of Burmese refugees in Malaysia

By Zarni

Chiang Mai (Mizzima)- In the first ever instance of highlighting the lives of refugees, particularly Burmese, Malaysian rights campaigners have launched a new book compiling eight stories on the pathetic situation of Burmese refugees.

The book titled, 'The Revolving Door', highlights the precarious state that Burmese refugees are in, in Malaysia while seeking refuge from persecution in their home country – Burma.

Dr. Irene Fernandez, author of the book, which was launched on Saturday, said, "I wrote this book as we need to present the responsibilities and understanding of the Malaysians, and also the international community to know more about violence towards these people."

Dr. Fernandez, in her book highlights the need for Malaysians to understand refugees and other foreign workers in their land. She said Burmese refugees and other foreign workers are often subjected to deportation from the border on arrest by the Malaysian authorities.

In the process of deportation of the refugees from the Malaysian border, the refugees are exposed and are vulnerable to human traffickers, who wait for Malaysian authorities to deport them and then charge a huge sum of money to help them get back into Malaysia, she said.

"This situation that the refugees are facing is like a revolving door, so I named the book 'The Revolving Door'," Dr, Fernandez told Mizzima.

According to her, most refugees, including women, children, pregnant women and elders, once arrested by Malaysian authorities are deported to the Thai-Malay border after the courts take a decision. And right at the border, the refugees are met by human traffickers, who demand huge sums of money to help them go back in.

Most often the refugees are charged between 1300 and 2000 Malaysian Ringgits (377 to 581 US Dollar) by the traffickers.

Dr. Fernandez hopes the book, which compiles eight stories of Burmese refugees, will bring about a better understanding about the lives and struggles of refugees and foreign workers in Malaysia.

"We hope that there will be some changes from this. Once people read this book they will understand these poor people and may think for them and they could recognize the refugees," said Dr. Fernandez.

Malaysia, an emerging economic tiger of Southeast Asia, in recent years has become a destination for many refugees and migrant workers from regional countries including Burma, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Nepal.

According to the Kuala Lumpur based Burma Workers' Rights Protection Committee, Malaysia hosts at least 400,000 refugees and migrants from Burma alone.

Meanwhile, Burmese refugees and migrant workers said with the continued harassment by Malaysian Volunteer Corps known as RELA, the book would bring some light on the plight they have long suffered.

"We welcome this book both for Burmese refugees and Burmese migrant workers. We feel like it is a ray of hope for Burmese in Malaysia, who are out of range of protection both from workers' rights and human rights groups," said Ye Min Htun, Secretary of BWRPC.

According to Burmese workers and refugees, they are often raided by RELA groups and are randomly arrested even if they hold legal work permits or refugee recognition certificates issued by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

The Burmese then are forcibly imprisoned in detention camps and are sentenced for deportation.

Dr. Fernandez said her book urges the Malaysian government to recognise the Burmese refugees and stop violating their rights.

"We would also like to urge the international community to respond on this horrific situation of Burmese refugees in Malaysia," Dr. Fernandez added.

Dr. Fernandez was awarded 'The Right Livelihood Award' in 2005 for her courageous and outstanding work against human rights violations. The award was established in 1980 by Jakob von Uexkull, and is presented annually, usually on December 9, to honour those 'working on practical and exemplary solutions to the most urgent challenges facing the world today'.

In 1995, Dr. Fernandez was arrested by Malaysian authorities and charged with 'maliciously publishing false news' on the abuse of the rights of migrant workers, malnutrition, physical and sexual abuses, the appalling working conditions of workers and for presenting facts about the situation in detention camps, where many migrant workers end up and die.

Despite being on bail pending an appeal, she - the founder of Tenaganita organization, courageously carries on her work to stand for the rights of refugees and foreign workers.

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