Help refugees facing possible deportation under MCO, group urges UNHCR

Chin children at the Alliance of Chin Refugees learning centre in Pudu.

PETALING JAYA: A group representing refugees from Chin state in Myanmar has urged the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to heed the plight of those likely to be deported during the movement control order (MCO).

James Bawi Thang Bik said the refugees faced a real threat of being held in prolonged detention, deportation and unfair sentencing during the MCO period.

He said with UNHCR’s Malaysia office closed and community volunteers unable to travel, the refugees had nowhere to go.

In the meantime, he said, the UN refugee agency should carry out remote intervention to help them.

They should make phone calls or email the relevant government agencies to let them know that persons under their protection mandate were being held in detention.

“This intervention needs to be timely,” he said in a statement.

James said many refugees had been detained after serving their MCO jail sentences or paying their fines, despite UNHCR saying on March 30 that there had been no arrests.

He said refugee interest groups had reported at least 73 such arrests.

“With no access to legal counsel, migrants and refugees are at the mercy of arbitrary additional punishment, on top of court-sentenced punishments.

“UNHCR intervention and legal counsel are a matter of urgent concern, as Malaysian authorities have adopted a strategy of mass detention of migrants and refugees during the MCO,” he said.

James said the Chin community had been badly affected, as most of them were under semi-enhanced MCO in Pudu.

He said the Pudu area housed a large Chin community, and almost all their organisations had offices within the cordoned area.

According to James, there are about 2,000 Chin migrants in Pudu, including about 300 living in the area under lockdown. He said about 50% of them are undocumented and waiting to register with UNHCR.

A raid last week on the area surrounding the Selayang wholesale market in Kuala Lumpur saw more than 1,000 undocumented migrants detained, including 98 children.

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