UNHCR: Asylum-seekers not illegals


  • Nation
  • Thursday, 28 Aug 2003

BY JACQUELINE ANN SURIN

PETALING JAYA: Asylum-seekers should not be treated as illegal immigrants and be arrested, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Kuala Lumpur said yesterday. 

“Under international law, asylum- seekers are different from illegal immigrants, and should not be treated as illegal immigrants,” UNHCR spokesman Evan Ruth said in an interview, noting however, that Malaysian law did not provide for this distinction to be made. 

He said the UNHCR had put across this point to the Malaysian authorities, adding that the Government understood this position. 

However, Ruth said it was still unclear to the UNHCR why the police had been setting up roadblocks on roads leading to the agency’s office in Bukit Petaling, and arresting asylum-seekers and refugees. 

“We still do not know the reason for the police action,” he said, adding that the UN agency was still discussing with the authorities the best way to proceed on the matter. 

The UNHCR office had to suspend operations on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week, as well as the day before yesterday when police set up roadblocks and arrested asylum-seekers and refugees. 

Police arrested 48 asylum-seekers and two refugees on Tuesday, most of whom were from Myanmar, Ruth said, adding that one refugee had been released after UNHCR intervention.  

Ruth said two UNHCR protection officers had been sent to the Langkap detention centre in Perak where those detained on Tuesday are believed to be held. 

City chief police officer Deputy Comm Datuk Dell Akbar Khan said yesterday that all those arrested outside the UNHCR office were illegals who did not possess any valid travel documents, reports LOURDES CHARLES. 

He said his officers did not arrest those with valid documents. 

“The fact is these people have entered the country illegally and even if they had entered with documents which had expired they will be considered illegals. 

“Anyway, the arrests are made in the presence of immigration officers and as far as we are concerned it is an immigration case and nothing more than that,” he added. 

Last Tuesday, police arrested more than 200 asylum-seekers and refugees mostly from Aceh who were on their way to the UNHCR office.  

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