Tue 31 Aug 2010
Filed under: Refugees,Regional
About 6,000 Burmese refugees in Malaysia including Burmese and Arakanese have been registered by the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), according to Burmese refugees in Malaysia.Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, Kyaw Kyaw Win, the general-secretary of Arakan Refugees Relief Committee, based in Malaysia, said, “ Of the total, Arakanese numbered about 3,863 and 1,962 are Burmese.”
The UNHCR began issuing registration documents for Burmese refugees on Aug. 17 and the process will end on Sept. 19.
Yante Ismail, a spokesperson of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, the overall process is “on-going.”
At the end of June 2010, about 88,900 refugees and asylum-seekers were registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia, according to the UNHCR website.
Of those, 82,200 were refugees from Burma, comprising 38,700 Chin, 10,000 Rohingya, 7,000 Burmese Muslims, 3,800 Mon, 3,600 Kachin and other ethnic minorities from Burma.
The UNHCR said a large number of Burmese refugees remain unregistered. The refugee community estimates that unregistered refugees and asylum-seekers could number 10,000 people.
About 11,000 Burmese refugees in Malaysia including Chin, Mon, Shan and Kachin were registered by the UNHCR in 2009. Burmese and Arakanese were not recognized at that time.
About 50 Arakanese protested on June 6 outside the UNHCR office in Malaysia, saying the UN discriminated against Burmese ethnic groups. After the protest, UNHCR officials told the protesters that UNHCR policy was to provide registration.
“I think they didn’t have any plan to give it to us if we didn’t protest because we asked them many times, and they did not give it to us,” said Kyaw Kyaw Win. “After we protested, they told us they would give it to us within two weeks. But it took longer than that.”
Registration from the UNHCR is prized by Burmese refugees in Malaysia because it offers them some protection if they are arrested by Malaysian authorities. Registered refugees also pay half price for some medical fees at hospitals in Malaysia, according to Burmese refugees.
Aung Kyaw Satt, the secretary of National League for Democracy (Liberated Area) in Malaysia, said, “The benefit of this registration is that we can increase our security. We hear that they will have a big crackdown on September and October.
“If we are arrested, they (UNHCR) can get us out of the detention camps. There are many people who finish their detention time, but they continue to be detained because they don’t have registration,” he said.
In detention camps in Malaysia, critics say there is inadequate medical treatment, and food and water is scarce for detainees in the camps. About nine Burmese detainees died in 2009 at detention camps in Malaysia from May to August due to an outbreak of Leptospirosis (an infectious disease caused by contaminated water or food which has been infected with rodent urine).
Burmese refugees who are registered by the UNHCR are also eligible for resettlement in third countries, but they frequently wait for up to one year or longer for resettlement.
“Many people want to go to third countries because our country is poor. The government oppresses the people, and the people don’t think the 2010 election will bring anything good to their life,” said Aung Kyaw Satt.
About 500,000 Burmese migrants work in Malaysia, legally and illegally, according to the Kuala Lumpur-based Burma Workers’ Rights Protection Committee.
The Malaysian government has cooperated with the UNHCR on humanitarian grounds since 1975 even though Malaysia has not signed the UN Convention Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Burmese refugees have been sent to third countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, France, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway.