PETALING JAYA: Migrants’ rights group Tenaganita and several refugee community leaders have lauded UNHCR for their commitment to recognise Chin refugees, but called on them to urgently protect asylum seekers and refugee children born in Malaysia as well.
At a press conference held at Tenaganita on Tuesday (March 19), Alliance of Chin Refugees coordinator James Bawi Thang Bik said two pregnant Chin women were recently arrested and jailed for not holding UNHCR cards.
“Arrests and detention cases among the community have increased over the past few months. UNHCR should consider reissuing cards to asylum seekers for temporary protection as cases like these shouldn’t happen again,” he said.
In a statement issued to R.AGE on March 15, UNHCR had announced that standard documentation will be reissued to refugees who have had their cards withdrawn due to the cessation policy, but there was no mention of asylum seekers.
James Bawi also called on UNHCR to register new arrivals from Paletwa township in southern Chin state, as there are many who were displaced due to escalating conflict between the Arakan Army and the military.
“According to media reports as recent as February, more than 200 civilians in Paletwa have fled to Bangladesh, and more to Malaysia and India,” he said. “This situation shows that it is impossible for refugees to return.”
Falam Refugee Organisation secretary Cherryn Certe encouraged UNHCR to prioritise protection for the vulnerable, including single mothers, eldery and individuals with serious medical needs.
“We would also like to request that UNHCR Malaysia look into refugees who had arrived in this country between 2009 and 2013, who were unable to register for UNHCR cards despite waiting for nearly a decade,” she said.
She commended UNHCR for their increased engagements with the community recently, and who had also communicated positive plans with community leaders.
“Some Chin refugees have received their UNHCR cards with a renewal deadline of 2021, and that’s very good,” said Certe.
“Previously, refugee babies who were born here after the cessation announcement did not receive UNHCR cards, but during a meeting yesterday, the new UNHCR Representative said that they will now be able to do so.
How UNHCR's "cessation" policy affects Chin refugees
Meanwhile, Tenaganita executive director Glorene Das called on the Malaysian government to provide refugees with basic rights such as legal employment, education and healthcare.
“While we are happy (with UNHCR’s reversal of the cessation policy), the refugee community faces continuous struggles,” said Das. “They (are asking) for the right to work, access to education and affordable healthcare so that they can lead a life of dignity.”
Das added that not giving refugees the right to work often leads to detention and deportation of refugees.
“We know that most business sectors employ refugees, but some are caught and deported during immigration crackdowns,” she said, noting that those arrested sometimes include women with children.
“We don’t want women and children in detention centres. They should be held in separate homes.”
She reminded the Minister of Foreign Affairs Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah of Malaysia’s obligation as a member state of the UN to protect and support the rights and welfare of all individuals in the country, including refugees.
“Such commitments must be translated into action, and that means more engagement with the community and civil society organisations,” she said.
In June last year, UNHCR issued a community message announcing that they will be ending refugee protection for ethnic Chins by Dec 31, 2019.
However, they declared a reversal of the cessation policy recently on March 14 due to “new reports and assessments”, which showed a worsening security situation in southern Chin State.