Tuesday, October 18, 2011

M'sia and Myanmar sign exchange detainees deal

KUALA LUMPUR (Oct 17, 2011): Malaysia and Myanmar have agreed in principle to exchange detainees, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein announced today, sparking concern among human rights groups.
He said the exchange will help reduce congestion at immigration depots nationwide.

“There are about 1,000 Myanmar nationals detained at immigration depots for various immigration related offences,” he told a news conference after meeting Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister U Maung Myint who is on a three-day working visit.

However, the number of Malaysians detained in Myanmar was not made known.

Hishammuddin said about 257,000 Myanmar nationals had been biometrically registered under the government’s 6P amnesty programme for immigrants.

This proposal comes on the heels of the abandoned Malaysia-Australia agreement in July to swap asylum-seekers for refugees.

Under that deal, which was criticised by rights groups, Australia agreed to accept 4,800 UN-approved refugees in exchange for Malaysia hosting 800 asylum-seekers while their applications were being processed.
However, Australian Prime MinisterJulia Gillard ditched the deal last week for fear of not being able to get the law through parliament where she has a one-seat majority.

The idea to send back Myanmar nationals has raised concern among NGOs which said it would breach human rights as many Myanmars fled their country to escape persecution.

Migrant Care Malaysia director Alex Ong told theSun the situation of the Myanmar nationals was different from that of Indonesians and Bangladeshis.

“The Indonesians and Bangladeshis mostly come to Malaysia as economic migrants, meaning they are seeking wealth and a better life.

“The majority of Myanmar detainees, however, are seeking political asylum, and are not here for economic reasons. We also have to consider their refugee status,” he said.

Tenaganita director Irene Fernandez, when told of the proposal, expressed shock that such an exchange could take place.

“It is worrying because many of them are actually refugees, but because Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees and does not recognise anyone as refugees, they are treated as undocumented migrants,” she said.

Earlier, Hishammuddin said besides helping to reduce congestion at detention depots, the swap will foster closer cooperation between Myanmar and Malaysia in tackling cross-border crimes.

“Malaysia and Myanmar have agreed to set up a joint working committee that will enhance efforts to monitor the movement of migrants between the two countries.

“The committee is expected to be set up by next week,” he said, adding that details on the exchange programme will be revealed after its first meeting.

He said the government had also arrived at similar commitments with Indonesia and Bangladesh which were the top two source countries for migrant workers to Malaysia.

U Maung Myint said arrangements will soon be made to send Myanmar nationals detained at depots back to Myanmar.

On the 6P programme, he said while the move to provide amnesty was welcomed, he had requested for an extension of the registration period, which had ended on Aug 31, for Myanmar workers.

The 6P programme is now in the legalisation and enforcement phase which involves the deployment of four million officers from the immigration, police, army and Rela nationwide to act against errant employers and migrant workers.

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