Detained on Christmas
By Salai Za Uk Ling – 24 Dec 2006 – Kuala Lumpur: Signs of festivities are everywhere as Chin refugee community in Malaysia prepares for festive celebrations. But hundreds of them will be spending this year’s Christmas in detention centers across Malaysia. More than 500 Chin refugees and asylum seekers are languishing in Malaysian jails and detention centers after being arrested for immigration offences. Detainees range from young single males to entire family members; to mothers and pregnant women to children as young as three years old.
Just last week, 43 Chins were arrested during an immigration raid in a construction worksite near Singaporean border in government’s ongoing operation against “illegal immigrants.” Mr. Peng had been working in the site for more than one month to support his wife and two young children before being arrested in last week’s sweep. Like other recognized refugees in the country, Mr. Peng is not legally permitted to work in Malaysia. Last month, he found a menial work in a construction site in Jahor, more than three hundred kilometers away from Kuala Lumpur where he and his family live. He took the job there, though it meant having to leave his family alone. He needed to earn extra money for the family this Christmas. He and his family are awaiting resettlement in a third country and were recently interviewed for relocation in the United States. His plan was to come back to Kuala Lumpur to spend Christmas with his family, but he is now being detained with dozens of his co-workers and is facing prospects of prolonged detention and even deportation. His wife and two children are now spending this Christmas without Mr. Peng.
Hundreds of other detainees are in similar or worse situations. Many of them have spent nearly one year in detention in more than 15 jails and detention centers nationwide. At least two pregnant women and a dozen children under 18 years old are still under immigration custody.
Par Iang was in her late stage of pregnancy when Malaysia’s notorious volunteer corps RELA arrested her in early October. She has been in Kajang prison along with one other pregnant woman for nearly three months. She was expecting to deliver last week and it is not known whether she had already given birth inside detention facility. She was brought to court on December 13, just three days before her expected date of delivery. She and one other Chin woman who is about 5 month pregnant were sentenced to one month in detention – their only crime: illegally entering and staying in Malaysia in search of safety and protection.
Both the women broke down in tears after the judge announced their sentence. Several Malaysian rights group recently took their case to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia and the Immigration Department and sought their release. They argued that their detention was in violation of international law protecting the rights of women of which Malaysia is bound. Malaysian immigration chief has already agreed to demands for their release, but so far only a few of them have actually been freed.
Festive moods are clearly evident among Chin refugee community in Kuala Lumpur this Christmas. But the community is also all too well conscious of the plight and anguish of their fellow men and women in detention.