RELA Raids Continue in Malaysia
By Amy Alexander – 12 March 2007- Once again, the Jalan Imbi neighborhood of Kuala Lumpur falls prey to yet another immigration raid conducted by the highly controversial People’s Volunteer Corps (RELA) early this morning. This is the second raid to take place at Jalan Imbi in a six-month period as Malaysian authorities continue to target asylum seekers and refugees in immigration crackdowns. Jalan Imbi is largely inhabited by refugees and asylum seekers from Burma’s Chinland and hosts the Chin Refugee Center run by the Chin Refugee Committee, which received a Malaysian human rights award last year.
The raid began around 1:00 am and continued for several hours. Forty-eight Chin asylum seekers from Burma, including ten women, have been taken to Seminyah detention camp, where they will await deportation.
Among those arrested and detained is, Salai Ni Kio, a resettled refugee visiting from Denmark on valid travel documents. According to our sources, the Malaysian authorities have confiscated his travel documents and are refusing to release him. The Danish Embassy has been notified about the situation.
This latest raid comes amidst mounting concern over the security of refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia following recent statements by high-level government officials indicating that the government does not recognize the powers of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and it will not recognize refugees.
On 1 February 2007, Malaysia’s Home Affairs Minister, Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad reportedly criticized the UNHCR for getting in the way of the operations of agencies such as RELA and the Immigration Department. The Minister further indicated that Malaysia “accepts UNHCR’s presence, but not their powers.” At the beginning of this month, Foreign Minister Syed Hamid further reiterated that Malaysia will not recognize refugees.
The Malaysian government has come under criticism by several human rights groups for their actions against refugees and asylum seekers. Just three days ago, the Malaysia-based human rights group, SUARAM, issued a press statement denouncing the recent arrests of newborn refugee babies and their families by the Malaysian authorities. SUARAM also filed complaints on 31 October 2006 with SUHAKAM, the Malaysia Human Rights Commission, against RELA for misconduct and abuse against refugees and asylum seekers.
Hundreds of thousands of Chins have fled from Chin State to escape severe ethnic and religious persecution committed by the military regime. Currently, there are over 20 thousand Chin asylum seekers and refugees living in Malaysia. Although the Chin people come to Malaysia in search of security, the Malaysian government refuses to recognize or provide any protection to the Chin population. Instead, the Chin people are at constant risk of harassment by the authorities, arrest, detention, and deportation. In addition, they are unable to work, receive an education, access healthcare services, or find acceptable living accommodations.