Refugees are hiding out in jungles
PETALING JAYA, 9 Dec 2008: Undocumented refugees from Myanmar who are hiding out in jungles in Selangor may be allowed to work legally in the state, if a proposal by Bukit Gasing state assemblyperson Edward Lee comes to fruition.
“I will propose to the state government to allow them to work legally and under conditions that will benefit both the state and the Burmese communities.
“I think they should also be allowed to occupy abandoned housing projects in the state. They can be given the task of resuscitating the projects by providing labour at reasonable wages, paid by developers appointed by the government to complete the work,” he told The Nut Graph.
If the government takes the initiative and allows the refugees this opportunity, they wouldn’t have to stay in the jungle in a deplorable state, Lee added.
This will be a win-win situation as the refugees will get a place to stay, earn a small decent income, and not be hounded by the authorities because of their illegal status. The developers, on the other hand, get to complete and sell their projects, Lee added. The government benefits, as by doing so it avoids bad publicity and a logistic nightmare.
Lee added that there were a lot of Myanmarese refugees who had to live in the jungle to avoid authorities such as Rela, the civil volunteer corps who are empowered to arrest illegal immigrants.
He said although there are also those who stay in the city, many refugees are forced to work illegally, leading to cases of them being exploited.
Lee’s proposal has found favour with non-governmental organisation Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram). Its refugee coordinator Temme Lee said it was a great move by the state government but the biggest obstacle still lies within the federal government.
“But it’s important that this is done with proper procedure to avoid conflict with the federal government.
“The problem is they (the refugees) need proper documentation that is recognised by Rela and the government,” she said when contacted.
She added that Suaram had been trying to push for the government to allow refugees to work and live in the country.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also lauded the proposal but said it must however be a holistic approach for all refugees instead of just the minority who hide in the jungle.
External relations officer Yante Ismail said although she could not comment specifically on Lee’s proposal, any move to allow refugees to earn an income would benefit the country.
“It is pragmatic to allow the group of people to remain in the country and provide help because they cannot possibly return home. While they are in the country, let them do something to help the country.
“Refugees are highly resourceful and they don’t want to accept charity or welfare. It’s a solution that is both practical and humane,” she said.
Yante noted that such a move would reflect well on Malaysia, which has had a long tradition of hosting refugees since 1975.
“Therefore, a solution like this does not go against what Malaysia stands for,” she said, adding that there were 42,800 refugees registered with the UNHCR as of September 2008, of which 37,800 were from Myanmar.
She however said that Malaysia was neither a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees nor its 1967 Protocol.
“It has no legislative or administrative provisions in place to deal with the situation of asylum-seekers or refugees in the country,” Yante said.