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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 151
January 09, 2010

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Human Rights monitor

Malaysia: Effort to improve current immigration regime

The Equal Rights Trust (ERT) has called on the government of Malaysia to grant legal residency to the estimated 30,000 stateless Rohingya refugees currently living in the country. In its report, Trapped in a Cycle of Flight: Stateless Rohingya in Malaysia, ERT praises the government for the recent steps it has taken to improve the immigration regime but urges it to go further, reversing the current policy which treats the Rohingya as illegal migrants.

In the report, ERT provides first hand testimony from Rohingya who have been subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, violence, extortion, human trafficking and forced labour in Malaysia. The report reveals for the first time the patterns of movement by Rohingya across South East Asia, providing an unprecedented insight into the cycle of flight, detention and deportation which affects tens of thousands of Rohingya in the region. According to the ERT findings:

*An estimated 25-32,000 Rohingya live in Malaysia and between 90 and 115 Rohingya are in detention in Malaysia at any one time;

*A combination of factors including common religion, economic prosperity and the chance to acquire even basic identity documents draw thousands of Rohingya to Malaysia, despite the fact that they remain under constant threat of arrest, detention and deportation;
*Rohingya arrested in Malaysia are often detained for months in inadequate conditions with little access to healthcare. Those convicted of immigration offences can face up to 4 months imprisonment and corporal punishment, which is still a legal penalty in Malaysia;
*Until recently, Malaysian immigration officials routinely sold deportees to human traffickers at the Thai-Malay border, who then either demanded payment from victims' families to release them and transport them illegally back to Malaysia, or re-sold them as bonded labourers on fishing boats or in plantations.

The report calls on the Malaysian government to recognise the unique status of the Rohingya as stateless refugees and to formalise their position as residents in Malaysia. In addition, it recommends that the government:
*Investigate the conduct of Malaysian immigration officials in respect of the Rohingya;
*Establish procedures for determining refugee status and statelessness;
*Cease detention of Rohingya and other refugees in cases where deportation is not possible;
*Institute a formal policy to minimise deportation of Rohingya to Thailand; and
*Ban the use of 'caning' as a punishment, including against immigration detainees.

Speaking about the report, the ERT's Executive Director, Dimitrina Petrova said:

"A year ago, the world watched as over 1,000 Rohingya refugees were towed out to sea and abandoned by the Thai government, leaving over 500 to die. Our report reveals that incidents such as this merely hint at the true scale of a long-standing, widespread problem affecting the whole South East Asia region."

"Stripped of their nationality and persecuted in Myanmar, many Rohingya soon find themselves trapped in a cycle of flight, making their way to countries like Malaysia, only to be arrested, imprisoned and deported" - Petrova alleged. Yet despite this, the steady stream of people making their way to Malaysia shows no sign of abating: the government's programme of arrest, detention and punishment is not an effective deterrent.

Petrova said "we welcome the recent improvements in the situation, but urge the government to recognise the reality of the Rohingya's plight and grant them residency and the right to live in Malaysia and enjoy fundamental rights on an equal basis with others."


Source: Equal Rights Trust.


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