Refugees In Malaysia: Interview With Chin Refugee Committee (CRC)
07 October, 2008 [CG Note: The Chin people leave their native place for other countries in search of refuge and security. The military junta’s systematic repression is most attributed to their massive exodus. For more than a decade,
Malaysia has seen an increasing number of the Chin people coming as refugees by various means. It is estimated that there are about 30,000 Chins currently stranded in Malaysia.
The arrival of Chin refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia prompted the necessity and birth of Chin Refugee Committee, a community-based volunteer organization working to provide services to Chin refugee welfare and needs. In the following interview conducted by Van Biak Thang of Chinland Guardian, CRC talked about its humanitarian work, the current situation of Chin refugees and more …]
Chinland Guardian: First of all, when and how was CRC established in Malaysia?
CRC: There was little awareness of the Chin people and their situations in Malaysia, especially among NGOs and local authorities. They stayed without the knowledge of approaching UNHCR for protection and safety before Canada-based Chin Human Rights Organisation’s assistance in early 2001. In order for the Chin people in Malaysia to get united, organised and cooperative in working towards a common goal, CRC came into existence. To make it clear, there are two names known as CRC even though they are of the same organisation: Chin Refugee Committee and Chin Refugee Centre. The former was founded in July 2001 and the latter in August, 2002 under the leadership of Victor Khen Sang.
Chinland Guardian: What roles is CRC currently playing regarding the Chin refugees in Malaysia?
CRC: CRC is engaged in dealing not only with refugee-related issues including assisting Chin refugees in their pursuit of safety and protection but also with all community matters such as visiting patients at hospital and helping out those detained in jail. One of its aims is to stand as the main pillar of the Chin refugee community in Malaysia. It also serves from time to time as a medium between the Chin refugees as a whole and NGOs including UNHCR.
Chinland Guardian: We have heard that CRC’s members who are working tirelessly days and nights are just volunteers. Tell us more about them.
CRC: The staff members are never paid but just volunteers. CRC welcomes and is open to anyone willing to work voluntarily for the Chin people in Malaysia. The committee is usually comprised of 12-15 Executive Members who are elected from among delegates of each township and group. The number of the Executive Members, who are responsible for making important decisions and managing financial matters within CRC, keep changing every year. The delegates also play an important role in collecting and distributing information to each community and group at different places.
Chinland Guardian: For its humanitarian work, CRC received ‘human rights awards’ over the past few years. What does it mean to CRC? And tell us more about it.
CRC: Yes, CRC received in 2006 ‘Human Rights Award’ from Suaram, the leading human rights organisation in Malaysia, for its relentless humanitarian work for and among the Chin people since its establishment in 2001. This award was made possible through a nomination made by Chin Human Rights Organisation. Through this tremendous recognition, CRC’s work has been better known and accepted by various NGOs in Malaysia. The recognition will shed light on the next generation and encouraged all volunteers to work harder in the future.
Chinland Guardian: What is the current situation of Chin refugees in Malaysia?
CRC: As the number of Chin refugees in Malaysia is increasing day by day, there are also more issues coming out with arrests and generally those in trouble. CRC estimates that there are more than 27,000 Chin refugees, both registered and unregistered with UNHCR. Since its closure of refugee registration except for the patients, UNHCR has been criticised for ignoring even 60-year-old refugees. In reality, the Chin people come to this country as refugees not because they are ill but because they run away from SPDC’s brutal oppression, fleeing their native places in search of protection and refuge in other countries.
Since UNHCR has stopped the registration, CRC introduced a CRC card on its own initiatives. The reason why CRC issues a registration card to Chin asylum-seekers is to identify and screen that a person is a real Chin refugee who belongs to Chin Refugee Community in Malaysia while he/she is waiting in line to get a formal registration as asylum-seeker with UNHCR in Malaysia. However, it does not have the authority to protect them from arrests and deportation by Malaysian police and RELA.
Chinland Guardian: You mentioned the number of the Chin people is increasing. So, what is the main reason behind this and why to Malaysia?
CRC: It is mainly because the people’s hope for a change in our country is diminishing and the situation is getting worse under Burma’s longstanding military junta. The people in Chin State, already affected by severe food crisis since 2006, suffer increasingly from SPDC’s military forced portering and ruthless exploitation of farmers for army camp construction. The farmers are allowed to do their farming only after giving big amount of money as a bribe to the military authorities that issue an order, prohibiting cutting down the trees for farming. Then, they have got to pay off another amount of money for permission to burn for cultivation. The people have to go through layers of bribery like this in their daily lives just for survival. These brutal acts of systematic repressive measures against the Chin people by SPDC have forced them to flee like mice being smoked out of their holes. Actually, there are also thousands of Chin refugees in neighbouring countries including India, Thailand and Bangladesh.
Chinland Guardian: How did they actually manage to get to Malaysia?
CRC: Mostly with the help of Rangon-based agents, they get to the Thai border. Their journey from the Thai border into Malaysia is terrifying. About 5 people are crammed in the car boot and another 5 in the back seat. Many Chin refugees have been injured physically and mentally with about 7 dead due to suffocation.
Chinland Guardian: What are the most difficult moments that CRC have come across when dealing with refugee issues?
CRC: Well, we have got different issues on a daily basis. In general, we were in awkward position when we had an inevitable situation, beyond our reach, to sort out on our own where a non-registered woman and her baby were jailed and needed to be helped out after UNHCR denied by saying they had nothing to do with the case as they were not registered refugees, when we had an issue where a hospital did not accept a seriously ill patient with a CRC card and we had no other place but the makeshift tent in the jungle to look after the patient, and when we had a problem where a mother and her newly born baby were taken to prison while we asked for the birth certificate at the hospital.
Chinland Guardian: Malaysia seems to become a burial place for many Chins. People fell to death from construction site, some were found dead from their sleep in the morning, children got lost and found dead in the bushes including Dally last year, and some got killed in a fight. It must have been hard for CRC to deal with all sorts of problems like this.
CRC: Yes, we could say so. There have been several occasions the Chin people ended their lives while in search of refuge and protection in Malaysia. More than 100 people, age between 20 and 30 have died since 2000 and 98% were young boys. The cause of these casualties included being knocked down by cars on the street, falling from the construction site and other work place accidents. Most of the dead bodies were buried at Kuala Lumpur cemetery with the help of Chin Christian Fellowship and CRC. Actually, we have serious difficulties in getting permission for burial place and services since we are illegal immigrants.
In addition, we are instead shouted at and threatened with arrests by the Malaysian police, who in turn ask for big amount of money on several occasions. The sudden disappearance of Dally Sui last year was one of the factors indicating the lives of Chin refugees in Malaysia. The cause of Dally Sui’s death has not been identified until today. No compensation can be claimed for any casualties. Even reports about the death related to Chin refugees can not be made in fear of further arrests and deportation.
Chinland Guardian: How dangerous is the life of a refugee in Malaysia if caught by RELA or Police? What can happen to him or her to the worst? And is there anything that NGO/UNHCR/CRC can do to help?
CRC: A refugee, once arrested by RELA or Malaysian police, will face at least three-month detention at Immigration Detention Camp where he or she may be given two or three canings as a form of punishment. About 80 percent of the detainees get swollen due to the poor condition of food given in prison. Then they can be deported at night into the Thai border where human smugglers are in control. Women are most likely to be bullied and can be severely hurt if they resist.
The rate of incidents where women got stabbed on their thighs as a warning against their failure to do as commanded is getting high. It costs at least 700 US dollars for a deported refugee to get back to Malaysia from the hands of Thai border-based human traffickers, who are mostly drug-addicts and using weapons such as pistols and knives.
Chinland Guardian: There have been some reports about corruption and misuse of power among the Malaysian Police or RELA. Has CRC come across anything regarding this?
CRC: RELA and Malaysian police have been criticised by NGOs in Malaysia but we have not seen much improvement in their operation. The RELA Corps members who are reportedly trained just to arrest those suspected of being illegal are illiterate and unable to read even what is written on passports. Those arrested will be taken to the Immigration Detention Camp by the RELA members as one of their jobs and released if proved to be legal after the immigration officers check the validity of the identity cards.
Chinland Guardian: Thank you for your time and talking to us.
CRC: Thank you, Chinland Guardian.