Malaysia UNHCR Accused of Betraying Refugees

By Ko Htwe, The Irrawaddy

The Malaysia United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is accused of betraying refugees by conspiring with Putrajaya Immigration Office to take their fingerprints and send them back to their own countries, it has been claimed.

On Tuesday, several UNHCR-affiliated organizations in Malaysia instructed refugees to provide fingerprints at Putrajaya Immigration Office, claims Shwe Zin, a Burmese refugee living in Malaysia.

“I arrived at the immigration office in the morning and was made to queue up. Then when my turn came, I had my fingerprints and a photo taken. And then I was given a printed document written in Malay that said to go back to our own country,” said Shwe Zin.

Many registered refugees came to the immigration office to give their fingerprints but did not know the details of what was going on, she added.

Many refugees received a document entitled “Pulang Ke Negara Asal” which translates as “Returning Home,” “Leaving” or “Going back to native country.” However, others were registered and given an alternative document which allows them to stay in Malaysia.

“I think I made a mistake by giving my fingerprints. It is impossible for me to go back [to Burma],” said Shwe Zin, adding that UNHCR staff were present in the immigration office.

“The UNHCR is tricking us because they want to settle corruption dealings with refugee processes. I don’t know why some refugee receive different documents,” said Kyaw Htoo Aung from Malaysia, who works for worker affairs.

An official from Putrajaya Immigration Office in Malaysia refused to give further details when contacted byThe Irrawaddy, but just said that it was an “enforcement event.”

Malaysia is currently running the 6P Program to tackle illegal migrant numbers in a bid to settle social problems and crime related to illegal foreigners. Although the Malaysia UNHCR was officially against the scheme, after Aug. 23 the organization is legally obliged to assist with the 6P registration.

UNHCR refugee card holder Myat Ko Ko sent a letter to UNHCR officials asking why the organization was not upfront about its involvement in the fingerprint campaign, and questioning its commitment to protecting international human rights and refugees affairs.

“As a result of the UNHCR and Malaysia [government] fingerprint program addressed to all the ethnic Burmese refugees in Malaysia, all of them are in trouble and the UNHCR should surely have given an announcement about it,” he wrote.

The Irrawaddy repeatedly tried to contact the UNHCR office in Malaysia but there was no reply.
Yan Naing Tun, the editor of weekly Kuala Lumpur journal Thuriya, said the action is taking place because of UNHCR corruption when dealing with processing refugee claims.

The Malaysia UNHCR has been accused of discriminating between refugees and corruptly selling resettlement registrations for profit, according to refugees in Malaysia.

“While I met with the Malaysian authorities, my friend told me not to give a thumbprint on the document when the [UNHCR] called us. It is an act of cheating. They made the plan in secret but the problem is now widely known,” said Yan Naing Tun.

Australia and Malaysia’s recent agreement to swap 800 asylum seekers who came to Australia for 4,000 refugees living in Malaysia was widely criticized by human rights groups, as Malaysia is not a signatory of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.

The Malaysian government has cooperated with the UNHCR on humanitarian grounds since 1975 even though Malaysia has not signed the UN Convention Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Burmese refugees have since been sent to third countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, France, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway. 
According to the Malaysia UNHCR website, at the end of May 2011 there are some 94,400  refugees and asylum-seekers registered with their office. Of these, around 86,500, or 90 percent, are from Burma. That figure is split up into 35,600 Chins, 21,400 Rohingyas, 10,100 Burmese Muslims, 3,800 Mon and 3,400 Kachins or from other smaller ethnic minorities.