Hundreds of Burmese illegal migrant workers were rounded up on Saturday by Malaysia’s “People’s Volunteer Corps,” the feared RELA.
The Burma Workers’ Rights Protection Committee (BWRPC) said the Burmese, who included individuals recognized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), were among more than 500 undocumented migrants arrested in a RELA crackdown. They included some 200 Rohingya refugees, pregnant women and about 50 children who were participating in basic education classes organized by the UNHCR.
Ye Min Tun, a leading BWRPC member, said the RELA crackdown was terrorizing Burmese undocumented migrants in Malaysia, who feared for their security.
The RELA crackdown came shortly after the release of a report by two human rights organizations criticizing the Malaysian government’s policy towards migrants.
The report by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) lamented the lack of protection for refugees and asylum seekers. It accused employers and agencies of exploiting and deceiving migrant workers.
FIDH President Souhayr Belhassen said migrant workers accounted for up to half Malaysia’s labor force, and they included about 5 million undocumented migrants. “In spite of the important contribution that this represents to the Malaysian economy, the authorities have not put in place any consistent national immigration policy,” he said.
According to the report, apart from temporary residence permits, the state legislation does not give specific protection for refugees, asylum seekers or trafficked persons. No protection is afforded refugee children.The activities of RELA also come in for criticism in the report, which says its 400,000 members lack training and supervision, despite working for the Malaysian immigration authorities.Swee Seng Yap, executive director of SUARAM, charged: “RELA carries out raids against migrants, without distinction between undocumented migrants, asylum seekers and refugees and with unnecessary use of force. The Malaysian authorities should immediately cease the use of RELA officers in the enforcement of immigration law.”Ye Min Tun also claimed RELA members abused and beat arrested migrants.FIDH and SUARAM recommended the Malaysian government to reconsider its position on the ratification of the Refugee Convention and to review government department activities related to immigration and employment.The report also documented the poor conditions of detention.The FIDH urged the Malaysian authorities to abolish whipping as a punishment, saying it was prohibited under international human rights laws. Cynthia Gabriel, vice-president of FIDH and a board member of SUARAM, said: "Up to now, the government has been adopting a punitive approach to the issue of migration: the poor conditions of detention of migrants in the immigration detention centers and the fact that they can be condemned to corporal punishments (whipping) are part of this policy.”And she added: “The time has come for a comprehensive policy on migration, based on international human rights standards.”