The sad saga of Chin refugees in Malaysia

A leaked 2006 US diplomatic cable tells about how the police extorted money from Burmese Chin refugees in exchange for their freedom.

(Free Malaysia Today) –  A leaked US diplomatic cable from 2006 has revealed the plight of the Burmese Chin refugees stranded in Malaysia and the urgency sought by the US diplomats for Washington to “settle large numbers of these refugees as quickly and smoothly as possible”.

The KL-based US diplomats also urged their government, in particular the Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration (PRM), to grant additional funding to help out the Chin refugees.

“Institutional funding is needed to provide basic medical treatment and English language training for both children and working adults.

“Given our pending resettlement of thousands of Chin refugees from Malaysia, modest investments in immunizations, medical care and English language training in Malaysia’s relatively low cost environment would yield substantial benefits for both the Chin refugees and the United States,” said the US embassy cable dated Nov 20, 2006, to the State Department in Washington DC.

The cable was leaked by whistleblower site WikiLeaks and handed over to Raja Petra Kamarudin’s Malaysia Today website which published it today.

The US diplomats also stated that they would work with the relevant US government agencies and the UN’s refugee agency – the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – to resettle the Chin refugees away from Malaysia quickly.

The additional funding sought by the US diplomats were also to be used for basic medical and education needs of the Chins and other refugee communities in Malaysia, stated the cable.

Camps close to Putrajaya

The cable was a result of a visit by the US embassy’s political officer to two jungle camps housing about 200 Chin refugees near the Malaysian administrative capital in Putrajaya on Nov 15, 2006.

The cable noted the physical characteristics of the camps, which were made out of shelters using wooden poles, plywood for elevated sleeping platforms, and fluttering sheets of plastic for roofing and walls.

The cable also pointed out that “a sense of devotion to Christianity pervaded each camp”.

“Each camp contained a church structure (the largest and most well-maintained structure in each camp) and all of the approximately 100 square foot dwellings viewed by political officer prominently displayed crosses or pictures of Jesus.”

The refugees at the two camps have not been visited by UNHCR representatives during at least the past two years, said the cable quoting the refugees, and as many as seven camps containing up to 1,000 Chin refugees were erected within five miles of the Prime Minister’s office in Putrajaya in 2006.

The interests of the Chin refugees in Malaysia were taken care by the Alliance of Chin Refugees (ACR) and the Chin Refugee Committee (CRC). The cable stated that CRC claimed to have about 17,400 members in Malaysia.

Police extortion

The Chin refugees had also informed the visiting US diplomat of their fear of police extortions and raids.

The diplomat stated that the police were aware of the presence of the camps.