Ethnic Myanmar Chins celebrate National Day on a sombre note

KUALA LUMPUR: The colourful, festive gathering of some 1,500 ethnic Myanmar Chins at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) for the 71st Chin National Day on Friday (Feb 15) began on a sombre note.

The event, which included musical performances and a beauty contest, started with moving speeches by Chin leaders and Malaysian MPs on the future of the community, who will no longer receive refugee protections in Malaysia after Dec 31, 2019.

"Until now, the Chins are still fighting for freedom and democracy, as it has not been successful yet," said Salai Yaw Mang, chairman of the Chin National Day committee.

"We don't know whether we will celebrate (Chin National Day) next year, but we hope we will be able to do so," he added.

For the past year, the ethnic Chin refugee and asylum seeker community of about 30,000 in Malaysia have reportedly experienced increased rates of depression, anxiety and suicide ideation as they prepare for possible repatriation to Myanmar.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced a global policy last June of ending protections for Chin refugees by the end of 2019, as their home state is now deemed safe for return.

"We are still hearing stories of (the Chins in Myanmar) being sent to their deaths, and that shouldn't happen. We can't assume that the (Myanmar Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement) shows a safe situation, as there are still concerns on persecution and ethnic discrimination," said Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah, who spoke at a press conference during the event.

"Malaysia has to reconsider and realign our legal refugee policies and framework, not just for the Chins but also all refugees," she added.

Due to decades of ethnic and religious persecution in their homeland, many Chins live as refugees and asylum seekers - mostly in Malaysia and India - while they await resettlement to third countries.

Malaysia has not ratified the United Nations' 1951 Convention on Refugees, and does not provide refugees with rights to work or education.

"Refugees are a big part of Malaysia, so there should be support for their education, jobs, and healthcare," said Klang MP Charles Santiago, who was also present at the event.

"As Malaysia and Chins are Asean members, (Malaysia) has to be an example and show that we can coexist with refugees," he added.

The UNHCR policy affects some 30,000 ethnic Chin refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia, and a further estimated 4,000 in India.

Some Chin leaders have called for a review of the policy, citing community and media reports on recent conflicts in southern Chin State.

A local press reported that Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah had announced that the Malaysian government will reconsider its policy of returning the Chin refugees to Myanmar.


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