PETALING JAYA: The ending of refugee protection for the ethnic Chin community in Malaysia could lead to cases of smuggling and human trafficking, said human rights NGO Tenaganita.
“Smugglers and trafficking agents are always looking for a way to bring people in by deceit,” said its executive director Glorene A. Das.
“This will continue to happen if traffickers promise you can go back home without the need for documents.”
She said this during a joint press with the Coalition of Burma Ethnics Malaysia (COBEM), Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO) and Independent Chin Communities (ICC) on Wednesday (Aug 29).
It was held following a review of the Chin refugee status in Malaysia by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
On June 13, the UNHCR announced that the refugee protection for the group in Malaysia will be phased out starting August 2018, adding that their homeland is now safe for return.
Chin refugees applying for a renewal of their refugee status will only receive an extension until Dec 31, 2019.
Those who stay in Malaysia beyond that date will not receive any form of assistance from UNHCR, and will not have UNHCR cards.
These cards are usually recognised by Malaysian law enforcement agencies, which prevents refugees from being arrested and deported.
Chin community leaders present at the press conference claimed that there is no formal repatriation procedure in place to ensure that those without documents are able to return and live in Myanmar safely.
They point to recent incidents of returning refugees being arrested on arrival in Myanmar for having no identification documents.
With no safe way to return, Glorene said there is a possibility that those who have lost their refugee status will then rely on irregular methods to return home.
“What if they’re sold into forced labour somewhere along the route between Malaysia to the border, and to the Chin state?”
“UNHCR should have policies to monitor this process,” she proposed.
The Chin community is calling for a review of the cessation policy, claiming that the Chin state is still unsafe.
“Civilians are restricted from making a livelihood, and there is still conflict and forced labour especially in the southern area of the Chin state,” said CHRO programme director Sang Hnin Lian.
“We call for UNHCR to suspend the confiscation of Chin refugee cards, and to make public all appraisals and studies on the Chin situation in Myanmar.”
The ethnic Chin fled Myanmar due to military and religious persecution, and a large number of them seek refuge in Malaysia before resettling in countries like the US and Australia.
In response, a UNHCR spokesman in Kuala Lumpur said the situation in the Chin state is now stable and secure, based on analysis of the political, social and security development over the course of several years.
The spokesman also reiterated that UNHCR will continue meeting and speaking with the Chin community to explain the options available and to help find long-term solutions.
As of July, there are 159,980 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia, including 30,140 Chin refugees.