Persecuted and tortured at home in Burma, Chin refugees in Malaysia are at constant risk of harassment, arrest, detention and deportation, writes Amy Alexander.
Early in the morning of 5 October 2006, Rela personnel raided the urban neighborhood of Jalan Imbi in Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, taking into their custody over two hundred individuals, including over 50 asylum seekers from Burma. Forty-five men and seven women from Burma’s Chin State have been taken to the Lenggeng detention camp in Selangor State, located two hours outside of Kuala Lumpur. Hundreds of thousands of Chins have fled from Chin State to escape severe ethnic and religious persecution committed by the military regime.
The raid began around 3.00 am and lasted over an hour. Over 100 Rela volunteers, Malaysia’s controversial untrained reserve force charged with frequent misuse of powers, ordered some 2,000 residents living in the Jalan Imbi area out of their urban flats and into a parking lot. They then systematically checked for immigration documents. Those holding official UNHCR cards were released while those whose cases are pending before the UNHCR were put on lorries and taken to the local Rela office. Most of the residents in the Jalan Imbi area are Chin asylum seekers and refugees.
Altogether about 93 Chin asylum seekers were taken to the Rela office; 41 UNHCR-registered Chin asylum seekers were later released after verification of their documents by UNHCR. But 52 Chin asylum seekers, including seven women, who are not registered with UNHCR were sent to the Lenggeng detention camp where they will await deportation. The UNHCR registration process has been closed since July 2005, leaving thousands of genuine refugees unable to obtain official refugee status or obtain any documents from the UNHCR.
Facing persecution, torture, and even death in Burma, thousands of Chin have been forced from their homes and seek refuge in nearby countries. The people of Burma have been living under brutal military control since 1962. As a primarily Christian community in a predominantly Buddhist country, the Chin people are particularly targeted by the military rulers because of their minority status. Reports of violations of basic human rights are widespread throughout Chin State.
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As of 4 October 2006, over 16,863 Chins are living in Malaysia. The Chin people in Malaysia live without any security. The Malaysian government refuses to recognise or provide any protection to the Chin population. As a result, the Chin people are at constant risk of harassment by the authorities and face arrest, detention, and deportation. In addition, they are unable to work, receive an education, obtain access to health care services or find acceptable accommodation.
Included in those facing potential deportation are five members of the Chin Refugee Centre (CRC), a community-based organisation dedicated to helping the Chin people living in Malaysia. The CRC staff includes two teachers who conduct courses for more than 120 Chin children that are barred from attending schools in Malaysia, two female office workers, and a member of the Chin Student Organisation who is also a Chin interpreter for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders or MSF).
The latest sweep has been preceded by warnings that the government intends to crackdown on undocumented immigrants living throughout Malaysia. Rela has come under attack for their frequent abuse of power and use of violence, particularly against refugees and asylum seekers who have been assaulted and humiliated during Rela operations. Numerous complaints have been lodged in 2006 against Rela for corruption and human rights violations. Rela’s tactics have also been heavily criticised in the past by many human rights organisations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and human rights group Suaram.
RELA Operation updates (as at 18 October 2006):
On 14 October 2006, hundreds of Rela personnel conducted mass arrests of suspected illegal immigrants in the vicinity of Cheras Alam Jaya, located outside of Kuala Lumpur where 500 Chin asylum seekers are staying in low-rental apartments. They detained 172 Chin refugees and took them directly to the Lenggeng and Semenyih immigration detention camps. Rela deliberately targeted the areas where Chin asylum seekers are staying. Within 14 days of 1 October 2006, Rela conducted raids at three different places where mostly Chin asylum seekers are staying. All the three raids were conducted at 3 or 4 a.m while most of them were asleep.
The first RELA operation against illegal immigrants was conducted on 5 October and targeted the Jalan Imbi area, where 52 Chin refugees including seven Chin refugee women were arrested and later detained at the Lenggeng detention camp.
The second RELA operation was conducted in the Limau Manis jungles, where about 200 Chin refugees are sheltering in makeshift huts. Seven Chin refugees were arrested and the rest luckily evaded arrest. The seven were sent to the Semenyih detention camp.
The third Rela operation was conducted in Cheras Alam Jaya, where over 500 Chin refugees are staying and some 172 asylum seekers were detained. About 40 women including their children were detained. Most of the women were carrying UNHCR documents as they are registered with the UNHCR and were awaiting their refugee status determination interview. They were all sent to two different immigration detention camps.
There are already 144 Chin refugee detainees at the Lenggeng Immigration Camp as the previous arrestees are still in this camp. According information available to the Chin Refugee Centre, there are about 500 Chin refugees at various immigration detention camps nationwide. The sweeping raids, just days apart and targeting mostly Chin asylum seekers in Malaysia, are haunting the rest of the Chin refugees
These Chin refugees are facing a hopeless and unbearable situation as they cannot even submit their asylum applications at the UNHCR office, which is closed to new asylum seekers. After escaping from the prison-nation of Burma, the fear of arrest and deportation in Malaysia among the helpless Chin asylum seekers is growing by the day.
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