by Aris Oziar
For the past three months I have been working on a
website project called FiftyRefugees. As the name implies, it chronicles the
story of 50 refugees who currently call Malaysia their home.
Malaysia does not recognise the Geneva Refugee Convention, and partly as a
result of this (we have other legal avenues to give them rights, such as IMM13
but the government has refused to act), Refugees in Malaysia who cross the
border illegally or whose visa has lapsed are classified as Illegal Immigrants,
subject to arrest and detention by the police, RELA and Immigration.
They have restricted access to healthcare services and the children cannot go to
government schools, effectively denying them education.
As a Malaysian, I am outraged to hear their stories of Malaysia – 3
years of detention or living in makeshift jungle camps / jungle due to fear
of arrest. Stories of a 6 year old girl whose last visit to town was 4 years
ago (the mother is too afraid to bring her out), and her 55 year old father who
eventually died because the police took all their money the one time they were
desperate enough to go to the hospital to treat his illness. And of course, of
the Malaysian immigration authorities dumping them across the border in
Thailand, where they are rounded up by agents and either pay these agents to
get back to Malaysia , or face slave labour – the men in fishing boats and the
women, probably sold to the sex trade.
I want people to know that refugees do exist in Malaysia . To know that they
braved a dangerous journey to Malaysia to escape atrocities in their own
country. To know that most of them live a marginal life, often exploited,
almost always in fear.