KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia must have policies to recognise the rights of refugee women and children as they are especially vulnerable, suggested human rights groups.
“Refugees and asylum seekers, especially women and children, are easily exploited because they are unable to seek legal action under Malaysian law,” said Tenaganita executive director Glorene A. Das.
“There are an estimated 200,000 asylum seekers and refugees in Malaysia, including those who are not registered and who are at risk of prosecution and gender-based violence,” she said at a conference in conjunction with International Women’s Day yesterday.
Das related how a three-day-old baby was picked up from the hospital and sent to a detention centre due to a notice order by the Health Ministry to detain undocumented people.
“This notice order is still being implemented, and it can lead to human trafficking cases because they cannot stay here.
“And yet, it is not safe for many of these people to return to their country of origin due to safety concerns,” she said.
Myanmar Ethnic Women Refugee Organisation (Mewro) coordinator Htu Lai called on the women in government to advocate for those in vulnerable communities.
“We long to work, have education and work opportunities. Women represent half of the world’s population and half of the world’s potential. When women have a place to speak up, we can make good changes,” she said.
The inaugural Women’s Conference, which was held at RUANG by ThinkCity, was organised by Mewro and supported by Tenaganita.
It included performances by refugee children and a speaker session by lawyer and human rights activist Latheefa Koya.
“Malaysia has many laws that protect women but if you don’t have a passport or document, you wouldn’t be likely to make a police report (if a crime has occurred).
“Whereas (undocumented and refugee) children are vulnerable because they cannot go to school, and this creates a generation of people who don’t have rights and may be angry and resentful,” Latheefa said.
She encouraged the refugee and migrant community to be empowered in legal issues and to learn their rights as stated in immigration laws.
“When you want to fight for your rights, you need to know what to say and what it is all about. When you show that you’re prepared and know your rights, that’s when they will take a step back,” she said.