Malaysian Govt Pressured to Suspend Detainee Exchange with Burma

By Saw Yan Naing, The Irrawaddy

Malaysia should delay deporting Burmese refugees and asylum seekers until there is safety and job security in their homeland, according to Malaysian rights groups and the leading opposition party.

The calls came in response to a plan to exchange detainees reached between Kuala Lumpur and Naypyidaw earlier this month.

Under the deal, Malaysia will deport the 1,000 Burmese currently held at Malaysian detention centers, mostly for immigration offenses, while Burma will send back Malaysian detainees, Malaysian Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein announced this week.

Lim Kit Siang, the chairman of the Malaysian opposition Democratic Action Party and a member of the Malaysian Parliament, said that the detainee exchange between Malaysia and Burma should be suspended until there is an assurance that refugees and asylum seekers will be protected from prosecution when they return to Burma.

“The agreement will only further jeopardize the dignity and security of Myanmar refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia. Those who flee Myanmar remain at risk of persecution in all forms,” Lim Kit Siang told a press conference in the lobby of Parliament on Friday.

There are at least 340,000 Burmese in Malaysia, including more than 87,000 refugees registered by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Many belong to ethnic minorities and fled Burma for fear of forced labor, rape, violence, murder and persecution by the government army.

Speaking with The Irrawaddy on Friday, Agung Putri, the executive director of the Asean Inter-parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), said that migrants come to Malaysia for different reasons, so the country should review the reasons the Burmese flee to Malaysia. She said many do not come for economic reasons, but because of systematic persecution in their homeland.

She said that Burmese refugees must be categorized differently from Indonesian and Cambodian migrants.

“We would like Malaysia to overthrow its policy, and suspend the exchange,” said Putri.

On Wednesday, a leading Malaysian rights group, Suaram, released a statement saying that the deal between Malaysia and Burma could result in some Burmese nationals being forced to return to a country “where their lives could be in danger.”

Aung Naing Thu, an Burmese activist in Malaysia, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the security of Burmese refugees and asylum seekers is at risk, and employment is uncertain for them if they are deported to Burma.

“Many of the refugees don’t want to return to Burma,” he said. “If they do go back, they have to worry about their safety,” said Aung Naing Thu.

Rights groups said that is a high possibility of persecution for those who are sent back to Burma.

The human rights situation in Burma, grievous as it remains, is unlikely to be able to ensure such protections, without which Malaysia cannot hope to fulfill its international obligations to ensure that human rights of refugees be protected, said the AIPMC in a statement.