11/12/2021, 12.49
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Malaysian police carry out raids against Myanmar refugees

by Steve Suwannarat

In recent weeks, more than 22,000 Chin refugees have fled the violence by the Myanmar military joining Rohingya refugees already been present in the country. The Malaysian government has condemned the coup in Myanmar, but refugees from that country in Malaysia are more like hostages than welcomed and respected guests.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – Malaysia has welcomed a large number of immigrants, but the severity of its laws and their opportunistic application have made life hard for nearly 156,000 Myanmar refugees registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Since late September, more than 22,000 Chin have fled the violence of the Myanmar military that took power in February, joining the mostly ethnic Rohingya refugees who had fled previous waves of persecution.

According to the UNHCR, Myanmar refugees join hundreds of thousands of Myanmar immigrants already living in Malaysia: 550,000 regular and at least 250,000 undocumented.

The position of the Malaysian government has fluctuated against a backdrop of high availability of low-level jobs for foreigners and the arbitrary use of immigration laws.

The restrictions imposed by the authorities in March 2020 under health legislation and the increased powers assigned to the police in case of national emergencies have led to roundups of thousands of undocumented workers, officially-designated refugees and asylum-seeking applicants.

According to the latest available data from last year, at least 15,000 foreigners are held in overcrowded facilities. The latter have already become hubs of contagion for COVID-19.

Many detainees are genuine refugees not yet assisted by the UNHCR, including at least 350 women and children, according to international sources. This has created a situation of unease and uncertainty, the Asian Pacific Refugee Rights Network reports.

These factors, together with fewer job opportunities and the fear of expulsion, explain scores of suicides among immigrants.

The Malaysian government has openly condemned the coup in Myanmar, calling for a truce and the start of a dialogue to end the violence, but Myanmar migrants in Malaysia today are more like hostages than welcomed and respected guests.

For example, it is difficult to understand why, a few days after the February coup, Malaysian authorities expelled 1,086 Myanmar nationals to a country under a dictatorship, where they were incarcerated and remain so.

Conversely, the UNHCR notes that, while the authorities deny that the expellees are people in possession of refugee status, since August 2019 the UN agency has been denied access to detention centres to verify who among these “guests" has right to international protection.

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