Antonio Guterres (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2005- )
We appreciate this quote of UN High Commissioner for Refugees and wish that all UNHCR officers and staff would follow these principles. The practices of some UNHCR officers in Malaysia are rather different from the UNHCR objectives and procedures.
There are gross inefficiencies and discriminatory practices in UNHCR registration of asylum-seekers from Burma (Myanmar). It is apparent that some UNHCR officers in Malaysia do not understand Burma (Myanmar) history; the conflicts of Burma (Myanmar), political geography, and sociology. These are complex and there is much confusion regarding the terms of Burma, Myanmar, Burmese and Burmese military junta.
We strongly urge UNHCR to take preventive measures against future misuse of power and other forms of misconduct by some UNHCR officers in Malaysia. There are many Myanmar people including children, women and old persons who face great problems because of lack of knowledge and discrimination by UNHCR in Malaysia.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has a well-structured mechanism and leadership in place to ensure that it meets the needs of people of concern. However, some actions and decisions of certain individuals discredit the reputation of UNHCR.
BRO was formed on January 1, 2006 in Malaysia. BRO aims to assist all refugees and asylum-seekers from Burma (Myanmar) who are currently residing in Malaysia due to human rights abuses committed by the Burmese military regime. The organization seeks to help and protect Burmese refugees of all ethnicity who have fled to Malaysia. BRO cooperates with UNHCR, other organizations, social communities and relevant authorities regarding refugees and asylum-seekers in Malaysia.
An UNHCR registration officer has said that the ruling Myanmar military junta does not repress ethnic Burmese people in Myanmar because the Burmese are the majority ethnic group. Therefore, most Burmese people are not entitled to the right to asylum. For example, UNHCR official said Maung Mya Aung (UNHCR file No: 354-03C11638) that we cannot give registration as the status of refugee because you are Burmese and Buddhist.
It is obvious that he is breaching the primary purpose of the UNHCR Article 3 and 4. Moreover, his statements demonstrate he is ignoring the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes the assertion that “Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”
It is obvious that their presumptions are very unreasonable and far from reality. The military dictatorship of Myanmar is notorious for its widespread abuse of human rights. To this day, the military regime continues to commit many forms of rights abuses, including crimes against humanity. There are many ethnics groups in Myanmar such as Kachin, Karenni, Karen, Chin, Burmese (Burman), Mon, Arakan, Shan, and so on. All Burmese people—ethnic Burmese and those of other ethnicity—have been suffering under the repression of the military dictatorship for many decades. The ruling Myanmar generals view all citizens as its enemies and possible threats to its continued hold on power. There is no single ethnic or religious group that escapes their oppression.
Myanmar military junta committed the most notorious Depayin massacre on May 30 of 2003 to attack on pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters.
The attack was launched by a pro-junta group consisting of members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association and the Swan Ah Ashin militia, who blocked the road to prevent vehicles from escaping the ambush. They also shone floodlights from trees lining the road, which was partially covered with barbed wire.
After the massacre, police appeared and rounded up the survivors. Men and women were detained separately on the night of May 30, and some of the women were raped by the authorities, claimed witnesses.There are many Burmese people who will never be able to forget the Depayin massacre, which left at least 50 people dead.
Another example of Military Government’s repression of Burmese is the way the junta brutally dealt with Buddhist monks and other peaceful demonstrators during the Saffron Revolution of 2007, and in their denial of aid to hundreds of thousands of victims of Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
According to the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other human rights organizations, there are currently about 2,400 political prisoners in Burma. This number includes over 2,000 ethnically-Burmese people, and more than 250 Buddhist monks and nuns, as well as members of other ethnicity.
According to UNHCR (Malaysia), Malaysia hosts some 90,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, 90 per cent of whom are from Myanmar. In 2009, 11,000 refugees from Myanmar in Malaysia were recognized by the UNHCR, making them eligible for resettlement in third countries. Of that total, members of the Chin ethnic group numbered around 5,000, followed by 1,800 Mons, 1,000 Kachins, and 1,000 Shans. The Alliance of Chin Refugees (ACR), a body comprising a total of 17 Chin community-based organizations, has said there are about 50,000 Chin currently living in Malaysia, and an estimated 20,000 have been granted UNHCR refugee status in Malaysia. The Mon Refugee Office (MRO) in Malaysia has stated that it has helped process about 3,000 Mon people for UNHCR refugee status.
These numbers show the unfair and inefficient procedures of Malaysian UNHCR officers. Most Burmese people have no right to register for asylum. We feel this practice is very unfair and shows the gross negligence of UNHCR officers.
Although the United Nations and other international organizations are striving their best for peace and unity in world, some practices of the UNHCR (Malaysia) office are controversial and contentious among different ethnic groups of Myanmar.
The Coalition of Burma Ethnic Groups in Malaysia (COBEM) is an organization for all ethnic groups from Myanmar—except ethnic Burmese. UNHCR (Malaysia) holds special meetings with this organization, excluding Burmese groups. This is unacceptable to us as it may encourage future tensions and conflicts among ethnic groups.
There are many refugee organizations in Malaysia working for the protection of ethnic minorities from Burma (Myanmar) that primarily work to help and protect their exclusive members. There are over ten organizations to support people of Chin ethnicity alone in Malaysia. However, in the past there has been no special organization serving all people from Burma(Myanmar). Therefore, the Burma Refugee Organization (BRO) was established to assist all refugees and asylum-seekers from Burma (Myanmar).
It has traditionally been rather difficult for Burmese, Shan-Chinese, Dewai, and people of many other ethnicities to get any protection or official UNHCR recognition. This is the main reason that BRO was formed on January of 2006. Now, there are over 17,000 members in the BRO from different ethnic backgrounds and religions of Burma (Myanmar). Currently, most of the students who study in BRO-operated schools are Chin, Kachin, Mon, Arakan, Shan, Karen, Dewai, and others.
Moreover, UNHCR has proved BRO as a well-organized refugee organization for all Burmese refugee persons since in 14 July 2006.
Bribery and corruption exists among some members of ethnic groups as a way around what are perceived to be unsystematic and unfair procedures of UNHCR (Malaysia). Some persons from ethnic organizations are taking advantage of the situation and are making money by offering assistance with registration for refugee cards.
The UN refugee agency has been setting up Mobile Registration in 2008. The programme is set to provide documentation to hundreds of asylum seekers who have been living in makeshift huts in the jungle. UNHCR held an emergency meeting with the Chin communities’ leaders on July 29, 2009 at the UNCHR registration field. However, one of UNHCR registration officers prevented and could not give registration to ethnic Burmese people in Ipoh division of Malaysia. This event showed him actively discriminating against different ethnic groups and also abusing his authority.
Moreover, one of UNHCR registration officers phoned to BRO not to attend 30 October 2008 meeting although all other organizations could attend.
BRO, as well as other organizations, have attempted to make suggestions and open a dialogue with some UNHCR registration officers many times about the misconduct and dishonorable practices. BRO also sent complaint letters to UNHCR (Malaysia) on January of 2009 about the misconduct and unfair procedures. However, he has rejected all of our attempts to engage constructively and has continued to turn a blind eye to our grievances.
One of UNHCR registration officers said during a meeting held in May 2009 that organizations should not dwell on what has happened during the past because UNHCR (Malaysia) will operate systematically and fairly in 2009 and the future. He assured us that ‘all will be equal and fair’. But he has failed to follow through on his promises.
Most Burmese people who do in fact have the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution are instead continuing to face prolonged difficulties and other social problems in Malaysia. They do not have a chance for registration with UNHCR due to some UNHCR officers’ unfair procedures.
Malaysia is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its protocols. There is currently no legislative or administrative framework for dealing with refugees. UNHCR-registered and unregistered asylum seekers, refugees, and stateless persons are consider irregular migrants by most governmental agencies such as the Immigration Department and the Malaysia Volunteer Corps (RELA), which focuses on arresting, punishing through fines, imprisonment, and whipping.
It is very astonishing that some UNHCR officers are not interested in, and in fact ignores, the suffering and lack of security of Burmese people. Now, they are victims of not only a military dictatorship in their home country, but also unkind UNHCR officers. Moreover, their acts work to discredit UNHCR.
Moreover, their misconducts and unfair procedures also work to discredit to other Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and social organizations such as Burma Refugee Organization (BRO) and some Myanmar organizations which are great respect to UN and co-operated activity with UNHCR.
In the past there have been many demonstrations in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Malaysia's capital of Kuala Lumpur demanding recognition of refugee status and equal treatment of refugees.
On March 17, 2010, an UNHCR registration officer told that he passed on BRO’s list to the Immigration Department and told that we need to be patient. He has said similar things many times. We were very shocked and disappointed by his totally unreasonable and illogical actions and responses. It showed that he has no kindness and sympathy.
We would like to urge him to read and practice really to U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres’s excellent quote: "When food becomes scarce, refugees often turn to desperate measures to feed themselves and their families. We are particularly worried about the health of the refugee population, domestic violence and refugees resorting to illegal employment or even to prostitution, just to put enough food on the table."
Nowadays, feelings of hopelessness and fear of arrest are increasing in those who are unregistered and face continued uncertainties. Most Burmese asylum seekers never get a chance to make their claim or state their case.
Therefore, we would like to call for UN, UNDP, UNHCR and international community to condemn and take measure to unkind and misconduct UNHCR officers in Malaysia. Moreover, we all refugees from Myanmar must be unity and try best to solve the inefficiency, misconduct, and unfair practices of some UNHCR officer in Malaysia.
4th, May 2010
"Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All"