IT HAS been 10 months since the crackdown of human traffickers began but many Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar before being caught in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia are still suffering hardship.
In an 18-page report released by Fortify Rights and the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) yesterday, it is claimed that at least 40 Rohingya refugees are being kept in squalid conditions at the Songkhla Immigration Detention Centre, including a dozen or more boys under the age of 18. All of the children are unaccompanied, the human rights groups said.
Detainees told the groups that they were confined to an overcrowded cell, where they slept side by side on the floor. They said they lacked access to healthcare and mental health services, as well as opportunities to exercise or be in the open air.
The groups said thousands more were held in immigration detention centres throughout Malaysia. Survivors from the May 2015 boat crisis reportedly remain detained in the Belantik IDC, where the report said access by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and service providers was extremely limited.
Rohingya refugees in Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia told BROUK and Fortify Rights that police routinely used the threat of arrest to extort money and property from them, particularly if they were unable to produce proper documentation or a card demonstrating they were a registered asylum seeker with the UNHCR.
Changes in the UNHCR’s registration practices in Malaysia have considerably narrowed access to asylum procedures for Rohingya refugees, the report said, leaving many without any documents and at risk of serious security abuses, including the possibility of indefinite detention.
Rohingya refugees in Malaysia said the lack of access to UNHCR registration was the single most important issue they faced, followed by a lack of access to affordable healthcare and livelihoods.
“I have no job and no earnings and that is difficult. It is not easy to get a job without a UN card,” an undocumented Rohingya woman refugee who has lived in Kuala Lumpur since June 2014 said. “I’m not in good health. My family is separated … Everywhere is trouble.”
In May 2015, Indonesia was widely praised for opening its borders to Rohingya refugees after Acehnese fishing crews courageously rescued more than 1,000 survivors of human trafficking at sea. Today, the refugees are confined to camps in Aceh and are not free to leave them, the report said, adding that they must depend on service providers for basic necessities. Rohingya refugees in other parts of Indonesia with UNHCR status lack freedom of movement in the country, the rights groups said.
Indonesian authorities effectively deported BROUK president Tun Khin on March 6, following a meeting between him and Rohingya refugees in Makassar on Sulawesi Island, they said.
Fortify Rights and BROUK urged the governments of Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia to end the indefinite detention of Rohingya refugees.
They also called Asean member states to ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol.
Asean member states should provide full protections to Rohingya refugees, including the right to liberty and freedom of movement, they said.
“We hoped the international attention on the boat crisis last year would have resulted in durable solutions and greater protections for Rohingya refugees in Southeast Asia, but that’s not what we’ve found,” said Tun Khin. “Asean can and should do better.
Amy Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, said: “Rohingya refugees have long contributed positively to societies throughout the region when they have the opportunity to do so. It’s in everyone’s interest that Rohingya refugees are provided with full protections.”