Malaysia Defend Detainee Swap Deal with Burma
21 October 2011, KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein defended the detainee swap deal with Burma and clarified that the first badge of 1,000 Burma national detainees who will be sent back to their country are not asylum seekers or refugees.
”They are not asylum seekers. I have talked to the UNHCR and made it clear that we are not going to send back those who are really eligible for refugee status.
“At the same time, do not use the refugee status as an excuse to dump so many people who are not eligible in our country as this would create a bigger problem in future,” he said.
Hishamuddin said he had checked their status with the UNHCR before finalizing the deal with Burma Deputy Foreign Minister U Maung Myint recently.
He was responding to rights groups who are concerned about the agreement between Malaysia and Burma to exchange detainees in order to reduce congestion at immigration depots in the country.
Meanwhile, The Star newspaper‘s columnist, Azmi Sharom said it is possible that among Burmese nationals detained in Malaysia for immigration-related offences are political refugees who left their country for fear of persecution and oppression.
”It is possible, if not probable, that among those detained are political refugees and not economic migrants.”
”The people of Burma are among the poorest in the world, but their unhappiness is not limited to economic deprivation…It is quite clear that human rights violations occur on a large scale in the country,” said Azmi, who is a law lecturer.
On related development, five non-government organizations (NGO) including Women’s Aid Organisation said in a statement that the swap deal potentially puts the lives of refugees and asylum seekers at risk.
”Whilst we laud the government for considering the issue of overcrowding at detention centers, the detainee swap initiative between the two governments is not the appropriate solution,” said the statement which was published in The Sun newspaper.
Malaysian Bar Council, meanwhile, said it welcomed the Malaysian-Burma immigrant swap, but urged caution.
”Care needs to be taken to ensure that those returned to Myanmar will not in turn be subjected to punitive action by their own government,” said its president, Lim Chee Wee.
On the same matter, the Malaysia UNHCR, in a statement, encouraged all governments to manage migration in a manner that is protection-sensitive towards those who wish to seek asylum.
“This holds true for Malaysia as well. It means that individuals who may be subject to arrest, detention and deportation for immigration offenses have the opportunity to seek asylum and to have their claims considered,” UNHCR spokesman Yante Ismail said.
Reporting by Thomas Chong