03/14/2024, 15.51
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Kuala Lumpur plans to repatriate migrants, Myanmar nationals fear conscription at home

Malaysian authorities want migrants they deem illegal to go home after paying a fine to avoid prosecution and incarceration. Malaysia, however, does not recognise refugee status for those fleeing persecution and conflict. Myanmar citizens who fled their country risk compulsory military service if they return.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – Malaysia launched a new repatriation programme earlier this month, requiring migrants it deems illegal to return to their country after paying a fine instead of going to trial with the possibility of prison.

“No one under the programme will be prosecuted,” said Datuk Ruslin Jusoh, director-general of the Immigration Department – “All they need to do is surrender themselves so that they can be processed and sent home rather than stay in Malaysia illegally.”

But once they join the programme, not only will migrants have to have to pay the fine, which ranges from 300 to 500 ringgit (US-105), but they will have to show a one-way ticket to their home country, Datuk Ruslin Jusoh explained.

According to Malaysia’s Home Affairs Ministry, 800 undocumented foreign workers out of 600,000 have already been repatriated.

For some migrants, going home means endangering their lives. This is the case for those who fled Myanmar because of its ongoing civil war. Malaysia does not recognise them as refugees since it is not a signatory to the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

For many Myanmar nationals, repatriation means possible prosecution for opposing the military’s February 2021 coup, while those aged 18 to 45 could be drafted.

The country’s ruling miliary junta has in fact introduced compulsory military service to beef up its armed forces, which have been struggling for months due to an offensive by the armed groups that form the anti-coup resistance.

For one migrant who earns 55 ringgits (US$ 12) a day making bricks, going home is not an option. “If I go back to Myanmar, I’ll be forced to serve in the military. If that happens, no one could support my family,” he told Frontier Myanmar. For this reason, “I’ve decided to stay here and face any difficulties, no matter what happens, in order to support my family,”

Others, on the other hand, fear arrest by the Malaysian police. A 45-year-old construction worker who arrived from Myanmar in June 2021 and now suffers from an enlarged liver, said he prefers to return. “If I got arrested for staying here illegally, my health would probably worsen even more in prison, so I decided to go back,” he said.

About 300,000 Myanmar migrants out of the total 800,000 in the country are undocumented.

According to observers, it is likely that in the coming months the Malaysian government will decide to empty the detention centres for migrants, repatriating as many as possible.

Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 12,000 refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants are held in 20 centres across the country.

The Global Detention Project, which analyses immigration-related detention practices around the world, has called Malaysia's immigration control regime “one of the world’s more punitive, arbitrary, and harmful systems.”

Malaysian law, in fact, considers any illegal entry and stay a criminal offence and convictions carry prison sentences of up to five years and six strokes with a cane.

But migrants are often detained arbitrarily, without recourse to judicial review and held indefinitely.

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