Burmese refugees who have fled for their lives to Malaysia because of religious and ethnic persecution in their homeland have not been recognized as Persons of Concern by the Malaysian government. Instead, they are “illegals”. Their basic human rights are imperiled. They are denied the right to seek livelihood, access health care, receive education or seek safe and appropriate shelter. Women, men and children—including those who may be elderly, disabled, pregnant or sick—are arrested, abused, detained, tortured, sentenced and criminalized. In many instances, the refugees have been sold to human traffickers.
This institutionalized, government-supported trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery, and cannot be tolerated.
In 2007, the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (SCFR) began receiving reports alleging the trafficking and extortion of Burmese refugees both within Malaysia and from Malaysia into Thailand.† Malaysian Government personnel routinely took the refugees to the Malaysia-Thailand border, where Immigration officials then sold these refugees to human traffickers. To earn their “release”, refugees were required to pay huge sums to the traffickers-about five times what the traffickers paid for them. Those unable to pay were sold to brothels as sex slaves, or forced into labor on fishing trawlers. These stories are documented in The Revolving Door by Tenaganita and in the multi-media documentary “Please Don’t Say My Name,” by independent journalist Karen Zusman.
Government complicity continues…
While deportations to the border appear to have been placed on hold, other forms of exploitation, abuse and trafficking of refugees continue. On-going raids conducted by the Malaysian RELA, an officially sanctioned vigilante citizen group, result in the arrests of hundreds of men, women and children. These individuals are sentenced to short periods of prison time, but are held for months—even years—in dangerously overcrowded camps lacking adequate medical care or, in some instances, drinking water. Men convicted of entering Malaysia illegally are often whipped.
The lack of a comprehensive policy to protect the rights of these refugees reflects the tacit complicity of the Malaysian government in these human rights violations. One remedy is for the Malaysian Government to sign the 1951 UN Geneva Convention—which provides protections for the human rights of refugees—and to adopt its principals in full.
Ethical Traveler is proud to be partnering on this campaign with Tenaganita, a Malaysia-based organization, which undertakes research, advocacy and action to prevent, solve and address grave abuses inflicted on migrants and refugees. Join us in telling the government of Malaysia that travelers are aware of this reprehensible situation, and that we call upon them to immediately sign the 1951 UN Geneva Convention. Please modify (if you wish) our action campaign letter, sign it, and send it back to us. We will airmail your letters to the appropriate Malaysian authorities around June 20, World Refugee Day.
Read Ethical Traveler's Reprint Policy.