Press Statement by Charles Santiago in Klang on
Friday, 16th January 2009:
End the 'Refugee for Sale'
The recent news report stating that
the US Senate is investigating allegations of Malaysian officials
extorting money from foreign migrants are linked to human trafficking
comes as no surprise.
I had raised this issue in Parliament last year with regards to the
Burmese refugees, together with human rights organisations like
Tenaganita and the Migration Working Group. But the Home Minister Syed
Hamid Albar had only glossed over the matter.
Local television channel NTV 7's "Refugee for Sale" programme helped to
highlight the problem, nationwide.
But, responding in a typical fashion, Syed Hamid in a reply to my
question in Parliament said that a special committee formed by the
Immigration Department to investigate claims contained in the programme
had found that immigration officials were not involved in trafficking of
the Burmese or other refugees.
Either Syed Hamid is naive enough to buy the story dished out by the
Immigration Department, which had set-up a special team to investigate
its own officers. Or he is desperate to ensure Malaysia does not receive
bad press worldwide.
The Home Minister, in his written reply, said that the Immigration
Department would meet with NTV7, continue its investigations and punish
errant officials if there is any truth to the claims made by the
But no such meeting has taken place so far. It is obvious Syed Hamid is
not at all bothered about the thousands of refugees in the country who
live sandwiched between skyscrapers and overcrowded flats.
The refugees live in fear of being caught by the immigration authorities
and being deported to their countries of origin, to face political
persecution, despite holding UNHCR cards.
They are constantly harassed by Rela officers, a volunteer force, who
are known to constantly be on the prowl for migrants and refugees. They
even burn down make-shift homes of refugees in jungles.
If arrested, the migrants and asylum-seekers are lumped together in tiny
immigration detention cells where flogging is the main form of
In short refugees live in a limbo in the country as Malaysia is yet to
ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention. This means, the government does not
need to officially recognise the refugees or the UNHCR documents that
It also, unfortunately, means that the government can shut a blind eye
to allegations of abuse of power by immigration officers who make quick
bucks extorting money from the refugees. Those who cannot pay off the
extortionists are sold to brothels, fishing boats or as bonded
Meanwhile the refugees and migrants who are still in the country live in
appalling conditions without proper sanitation facilities, housing, food
and medicine. They and their children depend on handouts and the
goodwill of others.
As such, I call upon the government to immediately ratify the United
Nations Refugee Convention and provide refugees with the necessary
protection as stated in the ASEAN Charter.
This is not the time to conceal information. Neither is it time to worry
about Malaysia's reputation internationally.
Therefore, I urge the government to cooperate with the staff members
from the US Senate foreign committee who have already travelled to
Malaysia, Thailand and the Malaysia-Thailand borders for intelligence
* Charles Santiago, MP for Klang