Categorised | Pictures

No refuge in Malaysia

THE plight of Burmese refugees is being highlighted in NO REFUGE: Burmese Refugees in Malaysia, an exhibition featuring the works of award-winning photojournalists Halim Berbar from France, Simon Wheatley (UK), Greg Constantine (USA), Zhuang Wubin (Singapore) and Rahman Roslan from Malaysia.

The event is organised by The Annexe Gallery and human rights organisation Suaram.

The ill-treatment of refugees in Malaysia is a problem that the government has routinely ignored despite the issue being highlighted by local and international press and human rights groups. As Malaysia is not a signatory of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, refugees are not accorded any rights in this country and are subject to abuses.

Forced to hide in crammed apartments or makeshift encampments in forests, refugees live in constant fear of being detained by police, immigration officers and Rela volunteers. Those caught are often abused, extorted for money, or sent to overcrowded and unhygienic detention centres. Sometimes they are sold to human traffickers as slaves or sex workers.

Between 2002 and 2008, more than 4,800 Burmese were whipped for immigration offences. Last year, 812 Burmese children were detained in immigration detention centres.

NO REFUGE will be officially launched by Klang Member of Parliament Charles Santiago at 8pm on 15 Oct 2009 at The Annexe Gallery in Central Market in Kuala Lumpur. The opening will also mark the launch of a petition campaign to get the Malaysian government to recognise refugees and to sign the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Parts of the proceeds from the sale of photographs will be channeled to Suaram’s campaign for refugee rights.

NO REFUGE will be held until 25 Oct. Admission is free. There will also be a talk by photographers and activists on 18 Oct at 3pm, on their experiences working with refugees and documenting their troubles. For more information, visit www.annexegallery.com.

Photos and captions in this picture gallery were provided by The Annexe Gallery.

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2 Responses to “No refuge in Malaysia”

  1. Charles F Moreira says:

    I find it a bit odd when some Burmese claim that they cannot return to their country for fear of their lives.

    The student protests against the military junta’s denial of democracy, which were brutally put down back in the 1980s happened over 20 years ago, when quite a number of the Burmese I see working in coffee shops, etc would have been way too young to have participated in.

    All of the few Burmese I’ve spoken to are decent people and claim to be children of civil servants or even military officers, and would have at most been in their early teens during that crackdown, yet some claim to fear for their lives, which does not make sense to me.

    At this point in time, I would find it hard to believe anyone under 40 who claims to fear for their lives if they had to return to Burma., unless they are known political activists against the regime.

    Otherwise, agreeably, life in Burma must be hard, given the economic situation there and that I believe is the real reason for many Burmese to leave their country in search of work — ie for economic reasons.

    However, I also wonder whether — hard as life may be in Burma — is it not better to try and survive there in dignity and near their families, than to endure such indignity and insecurity of being a fugitive in Malaysia.

    Some Burmese workers have come in legally under a work permit with an employer but later left them for work elsewhere and hence have ended up illegal.

    OK! That employer may have been a bad employer and they probably never thought of the consequences of leaving but whatever it is, they have breached their terms of entry and in a way have brought their problems upon themselves.

    On the other hand, I see many Burmese workers in coffee shops, etc who appear to have nothing to fear, perhaps because their status is legal.

    So what needs to be done is to ensure that employers treat their foreign workers well, so they don’t feel compelled to leave and end up being illegal and on the run and that the Malaysian authorities and enforcement bodies don’t mistreat and abuse those illegal ones who are arrested.

    Also, ways should be found for them to legally change employer.

  2. Gerry says:

    I think the point is that the “crackdown” was not just an event that took place “over 20 years ago”. Rather, as we are constantly reminded if we watch the news, it is still taking place. Remember the persecution of the monks only just over a year ago? Nobody would want to return and be subjected to this form of regime, even if they were not there at the commencement.

    I suggest Mr Moreira acquaints himself with current events in Burma!


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