Arbitrary Detention of Migrant and Refugee Children (SUARAM)

Press Statement: 28 August 2009

SUARAM is appalled at the increasing number of child migrants detained at Immigration Detention Centres in the past five years. We have received shocking statistics that were released by the Home Ministry in a written reply to a Parliamentary question in the last June/July 2009 Parliament session. In the question, YB Liew Chin Tong asked the Home Ministry to state the number of individuals below the age of 18 who were arrested in all 13 Immigration Detention Centres according to nationality, gender and age in the past five years.

Malaysia has ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and is thus obligated to protect all children, including migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee children. In the 2007 Concluding Observations of the Committee of the Rights of the Child, the Committee has expressed concerns over various aspects of migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee children including detention. The Committee specifically recommends the Malaysian Government to stop detention of children in relation to Immigration proceedings and to develop a legislative framework for the protection of asylum-seeking and refugee children.

The Malaysian Government has to fulfill its obligation to protect the rights of children, regardless of the child’s citizenship. In addition, the Government is obligated to provide protection to asylum seeking and refugee children as according to Article 22 of the CRC.

SUARAM calls on the Government to stop arrests of migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee children and their family and to release children who are currently detained in Immigration Detention Centres. According to Article 37 of the CRC, the Government shall use detention only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest time possible.

If detention is necessary, we urge the Government to place children in welfare homes together with both their parents. We stress that under no circumstances should children be separated from their parents. Article 9 of the CRC states that the Government must ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will. Separating the children from their parents is and can be highly damaging to their psychological and emotional health.

Article 19 of the CRC states that the Government is under an obligation to take all appropriate measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse while in the care of the Immigration Detention Centre. We strongly call upon the Government to ensure that the children are secure and not subjected to any violence or negligent treatment during arrest and detention.

We also call upon the Government to act on the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to develop legislation for the protection of asylum seekers and refugees.

SUARAM reiterates once again that the Malaysian Government must seek to protect the rights of all children, including non-citizen children that currently reside in our country.

Released by,
Temme Lee
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)

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Thousands flee border clashes

Larry Jagan, Foreign Correspondent
BANGKOK // Myanmarese military operations against armed ethnic minority groups along the country’s north-eastern border with China have led to thousands fleeing into China and increased tensions between Naypyidaw and Beijing.

Fears are growing that the operations could lead to full-blown armed conflict between Myanmar and these groups and the UN has advised its staff and other NGO workers to evacuate Kokang.
Beijing has sent extra troops to the area to quell potential violence and a senior Chinese envoy has been dispatched to Naypyidaw to convey the government’s concerns, according to a senior Chinese government official said on condition of anonymity.

Refugees from Myanmar's Shan State fleeing the fighting arrive at Nansan in Yunnan province. Reuters

Refugees from Myanmar's Shan State fleeing the fighting arrive at Nansan in Yunnan province. Reuters

More than 10,000 people have now fled across the border into China since tensions flared up between Myanmarese troops and armed minority groups nearly three weeks ago, a local Chinese government official in Kunming said on condition of anonymity.
Several thousand people a day are now streaming over the border into the southern Yunnan provincial town of Nansan from ethnic Kokang areas in Myanmar’s north-eastern Shan state, witnesses say.

Chinese authorities are alarmed by the development and furious they were not informed beforehand that Myanmar would take action against the groups, the senior government official said. A senior diplomat has already flown to the Myanmar junta’s headquarters to convey Beijing’s concerns.

Myanmar’s government says the operations are aimed at capturing an arms factory in Kokang. But analysts are sceptical and believe this is merely a pretext to go after groups in the area that the government accuses of being violent separatists that fund themselves by producing and selling drugs.

“The junta knows it must move to disarm these ethnic rebel groups, and the Kokang are the weakest militarily,” said Win Min, a Myanmarese military specialist at Chiang Mai University in Thailand. “Before the military launched this attack the authorities have been trying to portray the Kokang leaders as drug dealers.”

The Kokang are ethnically Chinese but have lived for decades in Myanmar. They have their own armed militia and had been fighting the Myanmarese army for decades demanding autonomy until agreeing to a truce 20 years ago.

Until recently, they were heavily involved in the drugs trade and were a major producer of opium poppies. But since 2003, according to the UN anti-narcotics agency, UNODC, their area has been poppy free, largely a result of pressure from China to stop the trade, a former UNODC chief, Jean-Luc Lemahieu in Yangon, has said.

Tensions had been escalating in Myanmar’s border areas for months, as the military junta pressured the ethnic rebel groups, particularly the Kachin, Kokang and Wa, to surrender their arms before the planned elections next year.

The government wants to integrate them into a border police guard but they have been resisting the move as they do not trust the Myanmar government, which they accuse of a litany of rights abuses including executions, rape and stealing of food.
Thousands of Myanmarese troops have been taking positions in Kokang in recent weeks, including along the route to the headquarters of the Kokang at Laogai. Rice and food supplies were being prevented from coming into the area, according to one resident, speaking by telephone on condition of anonymity.

On August 8, the commander of the Myanmarese troops in the Kokang area sent soldiers in to investigate reports of Kokang forces operating an arms factory, and this week troops searched the home of the Kokang military leader, Peng Jiasheng, searching for drugs. He is reported to have fled into a neighbouring area to the east, controlled by the powerful United Wa State Army, whichis believed to still have about 15,000 troops. The Wa, like the Kokang, are ethnically Chinese and have close relations with China.

The 20-year-old ceasefire agreement between Myanmar and the Kokang seems to be effectively over, according to Myanmarese dissidents in the Chinese town of Ruili, not far from where the Kokang refugees are now based.

“This does not augur well for the other ceasefire groups like the Kachin and Wa,” said Prof Win of Chiang Mai University. “This may be a preview of what’s to come.”

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Expert Doubts Napyidaw’s Nuclear Program


A well-known expert on Burma’s military affairs is skeptical about recent reports on nuclear cooperation between the Burmese regime and North Korea.

In a paper published on the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Web site on Monday, Andrew Selth, an expert on Burmese military affairs and author of “Burma’s Armed Forces: Power without Glory,” expressed doubts about Burma’s nuclear capability.

Selth said that Burma’s recent arms and materiel purchases from various countries including North Korea “do not necessarily mean that the junta is engaged in a secret program to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD).”

“Some generals—possibly including regime leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe—are clearly attracted to the idea of acquiring a nuclear weapon, in the belief that possession of WMD would give Burma the same stature and bargaining power that they believe is now enjoyed by North Korea,” Selth said.

“The key question, however, is whether this is just wishful thinking, or if there has been a serious attempt by the regime to pursue a nuclear weapons program,” he said.

In early August, based on interviews with defectors conducted over two years by Professor Desmond Ball of the Australia National University’s Defense Study Center and Thailand-based journalist Phil Thornton, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Bangkok Post published stories saying that the junta could develop a nuclear bomb by 2014.

Selth said US officials knew about the Burmese defectors more than two years ago. “Yet, even when armed with the apparent revelations of all these defectors, the Bush administration remained conspicuously silent about Burma’s nuclear status,” he said.

Selth also said that the tunnels pictured in recent news reports were “quite modest” and would be vulnerable to attack by “a modern air force equipped with latest weapons.”

“Many of these underground facilities are probably for military purposes, such as command bunkers, air raid shelters and protective tunnels for vehicles and weapons systems,” Selth said, noting that the Burmese generals have feared an air attack ever since the Gulf War.
“Some are more likely to be related to civil engineering projects. None of the photos support claims of a secret nuclear reactor, or nuclear weapons project,” he said.

Facing an arms embargo since 1988, the Burmese junta sought to reduce its dependency on foreign arms suppliers, Selth said, suggesting that recent purchases could be part of a program for the country’s large defense industrial complex to produce more sophisticated weapons, rather than WMD.

Selth said that it is certain that North Korea is “selling Burma conventional arms, sharing its military expertise and experience, and helping it upgrade its defense infrastructure.”

However, Selth does not totally deny reports of Naypyidaw’s nuclear ambitions, saying that Burmese natural gas sales have given the regime untapped foreign exchange reserves that could be used to fund a nuclear program.

“Russia is providing technical training for a large number of Burmese servicemen and officials, including in the nuclear field,” he said. “Some sophisticated equipment has been imported, and it is possible that sensitive nuclear technologies have been provided to Burma by North Korea.”

Speaking in an interview on National Public Radio, Bertil Lintner, a Thailand-based expert on the Burmese junta, said that the Burmese are “certainly interested” in acquiring a nuclear weapon.
“[The Burmese are] seeing how the North Koreans have been able to stand up against the Americans and the rest of the world because they are nuclear-armed. And they would like to have the same kind of negotiating position,” he said.

According to Lintner, Beijing is “well aware of Burma’s nuclear ambitions,” and “there’s definitely Chinese complicity in this new cooperation between North Korea and Burma.”

However, Lintner said the Chinese can conveniently deny any role by saying that it is the North Koreans who are cooperating with Burma, and that China cannot control them.

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FC Barcelona plays Manchester City – and refugee children are the winners

BARCELONA, Spain, August 24 (UNHCR) – When FC Barcelona took to the field for the 44th Joan Gamper Trophy last week, what mattered to 25 million refugees and others helped by UNHCR around the world was not the outcome – Barcelona lost 1-0 to Manchester City – but the distinctive jerseys the Spanish side were wearing.

FC Barcelona debuted MÉS jerseys to raise money for UNHCR sports and education projects during a game against Manchester City on August 19.

FC Barcelona debuted MÉS jerseys to raise money for UNHCR sports and education projects during a game against Manchester City on August 19.

News Stories, 24 August 2009

In front of more than 94,000 fans who turned out for the annual pre-season competition that carries the name of the founder of FC Barcelona, the players sported new MÉS campaign jerseys specially designed by Nike for the occasion.

MÉS is an alliance between FC Barcelona, Nike and UNHCR launched last year with the slogan “More than a Club” to raise money for sports and education projects for young and vulnerable refugees by selling specially-designed sweatshirts, tee shirts and caps.

By wearing the newest jerseys, the FC Barcelona players intended to draw attention to the plight of the 42 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, nearly 25 million of whom were receiving protection or assistance from UNHCR at the end of 2008.

FC Barcelona President Joan Laporta said the club’s commitment to work with UNHCR “is what makes us different from our competitors. It means commitment and solidarity, and Barcelona’s solidarity is now a reality.”

A limited edition of 1,899 of the new jerseys are being produced worldwide, the number corresponding to the year FC Barcelona was founded. The limited edition MÉS jersey will be sold exclusively in three Barcelona stores and online through the website

The jerseys the players wore in last week’s game against Manchester City of the English Premier League will also be auctioned in September to raise more money for UNHCR projects, which have already benefited thousands of refugee children in Nepal, Ecuador, and Rwanda.

By Rosa Otero
in Barcelona, Spain

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Cruelty and heartlessness (Comment)

COMMENTARY by Sanitsuda Ekachai, Assistant Editor(Outlook), Bangkok Post.

COMMENTARY by Sanitsuda Ekachai, Assistant Editor(Outlook), Bangkok Post.

Writer: Sanitsuda Ekachai
Published: 27/08/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: NewsIf decency is measured by how we treat those inferior to us, then we cannot call ourselves decent, given our heartlessness towards migrant workers.

Last week, two Rohingya teenage boys wilted and died inside Ranong detention centre. Doomed for a life in a limbo behind bars, they just lost the will to eat, to move, to live. Out of intolerable despair, they simply perished.

One was 18, the other only 15.

Imagine their mothers’ grief.

The week before, police in Samut Prakan province raided a cultural festival of ethnic Karen migrant workers while they were in the middle of a religious ceremony. It so happened that it was also Her Majesty the Queen’s birthday and Mother’s Day that day, so a ceremony to express filial gratitude and to pay homage to he Queen was also part of the festival.

Still the police thought what they were doing posed a threat to society. More than 150 workers were arrested and immediately sent to the immigration centre for deportation.

Many of them are legally registered migrant workers. Many have wives and children back here. Imagine their families’ shock and agony…

This is probably the crux of the problem – our inability to imagine the suffering of the downtrodden, which narrows our minds and shuts our hearts – although we take pride in calling ours a Buddhist country.

Of course, we can continue pointing the finger at the ruthless Burmese junta for drowning us with endless waves of war and economic refugees. In fact, this is what many of us do to free our troubled conscience whenever we hear of abuse. But the blame game does not address another important part of the oppression problem – our own heartlessness.

It is estimated that there are more than two million migrant workers in Thailand. Most of them are ethnic minorities who have fled extortion, persecution and harsh poverty in lawless Burma. The Muslim minority Rohingya, for example, are not even recognised as Burmese citizens and, according to the Burmese junta, must be expelled. The Karen, meanwhile, are considered dangerous rivals who must be suppressed.

In Thailand, these people are often subjected to slave-like work conditions. If the Thai workers faced the same plight overseas, however, we would be fuming and frothing with anger against such inhumanity.

Whenever there arises a tragic case of rights abuse at home, we will hear human rights activists lecturing the authorities about Thailand’s duty to protect basic rights and freedoms of migrant workers in accordance with various international declarations and rights conventions.

Mostly it is a useless exercise. Not because these rights are not locally applicable, but for these principles to materialise, the parties concerned must share a moral common ground: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

Which is not the case here. Why so? Ask the authorities and they will chime in condescendingly: “We need to protect our national security.” The overwhelming influx of illegal immigrants is stealing scarce resources from lawful Thai citizens, they charge. Besides, these people carry with them a host of diseases. Their strange language and culture also make it difficult to monitor their criminal activities, thus posing a threat to society.

Being nice only attracts more of them to come, they insist.

Sadly, this heartlessness prevails because it strikes a chord with mainstream society.

It is not that we are inherently cruel. It is only that we are the products of racist nationalism which permeates every social institution in our society.

Yes, prejudice is human when we are still trapped in the “we/they” dichotomy driven by instinctive group preservation. But it is another matter when we let it grow into inhumanity to legitimise what is otherwise unacceptable cruelty.

We must rethink our racist nationalism. Not only to save our souls. When identity politics of the downtrodden can easily turn ugly, undoing racism is a necessity to save our children and our country from ethnic violence.

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175 boat-people return back Bangladesh from deadly sea route

Returnee boat people at Cox’s Bazar meeting point

Returnee boat people at Cox’s Bazar meeting point

Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh: On August 24, after languishing in Andaman jail for about eight months, 175 boat-people were handed over to Bangladesh Red Crescent under the supervision of Bangladesh Rifles at the Benapole-Petrapole border at around 9 am, who were rescued from the deadly sea route near the Andaman Islands, said Moniur (23), one of those who returned
Indian coastguards rescued at least 300 people from near death from a sinking engine less boat in December, 2008 as they were forced aboard and set adrift with scanty food and drink allegedly by Thai navy after they made an abortive attempt to go to Malaysia in search of jobs, according to the India rescued department sources.

Indonesia’s navy and Indian coastguards rescued boat people believed to be minority Muslims from Burma where human rights activists say were beaten and set adrift in open sea to die or into hell by the Thai military to deny them sanctuary

The boat people claim, Thailand’s navy intercepted their boat, detained them in filthy conditions for a week, tossed several bound men into the open sea and finally set their barge adrift in international waters — with no sail, scarcely any food and little hope of survival who floated aimlessly for 15 days in the deadly sea where most of boat people died, according to the boatpeople report.

The boat people who were rescued by India coastguards from drifting in deadly sea were return back to the Bangladesh are:- from Cox’s Bazar 9, Ukhia 12, Teknaf 61, Chakoria 38, Ramu 18, Kutubdia 5 and one each from Moheskhali and Pekoua Kuta Khali and other are Bandarban districts of Chittagong Hill Tracts, he added.

Azizul Islam, assistant commissioner, Cox’s Bazar on behalf of deputy commissioner and Bangladesh Red Crescent Society officials, Cox’s Bazar district unit officials were received the returnee boat people who arrived in Cox’s bazaar yesterday noon. Their family members were also waiting for them in the receiving point.

According to Moniur , “At first our boat along with 152 people was stopped by the Burmese Navy, and they provided us some rice, water and oil and then they showed us the way to Maylaysia. They didn’t create any trouble, but, when we reached the Thai coast, we were stopped again by the Thai Navy. They fed us and said that we have the chance to live with Thai Muslims. By saying that, at around 5 pm, and after seizing our clothes, they put us in a boat and sailed to an isolated Island from Ranong. After arrival at the island, we saw that about 300 to 400 boat-people had already been detained. We lived with them for two days in that island. The authorities fed us again.”

Two days later, six empty boats or trawlers arrived to the island, and put all 577 boat-people to four boats or trawlers and they took off the engines from the trawlers and put two rice bags and two gallons (30 litters) of water per boat and took the trawlers to deep sea tying it behind their ship. The authorities promised to transfer the boatpeople to a Malaysian ship which will take them to Maylaysia. After 38 hours on sea, they cut off the ropes and let us drift in the deep sea to die, Moniur added.

After which the trawlers floated on the sea, and one went to a westerly direction, two trawlers went to the south and the last one went to the east with the current. The trawler which went to west direction, he (Moniur) was in it. After 13 days of floating on sea, the trawler reached the base of a hill and stayed there one day. 19 people of the 152 boatpeople died of hunger while adrift. Next day, they reached a village walking. The villagers fed them, said Moniur.

The Indian Navy on the Andaman Island, took them to a training camp and detained them there. They were well fed and given medical treatment. They stayed there for around eight months. However, on August 20, 175 people (including 15 Rohingya) were put on a boat, and then after four days and four nights, it reached Kolkata. They were driven to Benapole border check post of India-Bangladesh. At last, they reached at Cox’s Bazaar in the evening of August 25, Moniur added.

Tareque Md. Ariful Islam, counselor of Bangladesh mission in Kolkata, officials of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) police and Bangladesh Red Crescent Society formally received them at Benapole. He added that after permission from the Indian Government, they were brought to Kolkata from Port Blair, the capital of Anadaman Islands on August 21. They reached Kolkata on August 23.

The Bangladesh authorities had an arrangement for primary check up and treatment by the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society and International Committee of the Red Cross at Benapole check post.

A Returnee boatpeople happily  join with family members in Cox’s Bazar  meeting point

A Returnee boatpeople happily join with family members in Cox’s Bazar meeting point

Kabir Uddin, a member of the returnee group, saying that nearly 500 Bangladeshis and Burmese were started for Malaysia from Teknaf by a trawler through the Bay of Bengal. But when the trawler reached Thai territory, were arrested by the Thai Coast Guards, where the Thai authority tortured us first and then took the trawler in the deep sea tying it behind their ship. From there we reached near the Andamans and later were rescued by Indain helicopter, many of our group died of hunger in the deep sea.

There are about 283 people present in Blair camp. Some touts took kyat 5,000 to 20,000 from them saying that they will provide jobs in Malaysia, said Moniur , who reached Cox’s Bazaar on August 25.

Returnees Hashim, said some local human traffickers took Taka 13,000 to 40,000 promising them jobs in Malaysia and put them on trawlers from Teknaf in Cox’s Bazaar for Malaysia.

The repatriation process of 175 boat-people from the Andaman was being supervised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Bangladesh High Commission in New Delhi and Deputy High Commission of Bangladesh in Kolkata, said officials.

A first batch of 49 persons were sent back earlier this year after due verification. Now, the second batch of 175 Bangladeshis have been sent to their native land.

Indian ships had “rescued 446 Bangladeshi and Burmese refugees from four boats” since December 29, said Indian Coast Guard commander S.P. Sharma, according to AFP report.

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China secures gas from Burmese waters in $5.6bn deal

China is to boost its economic ties to the Burmese military Government with a $5.6 billion (£3.4 billion) gas project in the Bay of Bengal, to be built by a South Korean and Indian consortium.

The Shwe gas project, led by Daewoo International, the South Korean conglomerate, will supply China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) with gas for 30 years, a deal that underscores the importance of China to the economy of Burma, the impoverished and isolated state on its southwestern border.

As well as Daewoo, which owns 51 per cent, the gas consortium includes ONGC, India’s state oil group; GAIL, India’s state gas company; Korea Gas; and MOGE, the Burmese state oil and gas unit.

The gas will come from the Shwe field offshore from Arakan state. The Shwe and Shwe Phyu gasfields, discovered in 2003, are thought to be among the largest in South-East Asia, representing up to six trillion cubic feet of gas, according to Daewoo.

The resource is estimated be worth $40 billion to Burma. The contract to buy Shwe’s output was fiercely contested by India, which, like China, suffers a severe energy deficit. Delhi made concerted efforts to improve relations with the generals in Rangoon, toning down its support for Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader held under house arrest.

Daewoo said yesterday that it would invest $1.7 billion in its share of the project, including offshore platforms and an undersea pipeline. The consortium is waiting for the green light from the Burmese Government, which has a 15 per cent stake in the project, via MOGE.

The 870km pipe, costing almost $2 billion, will bring gas to the Burmese border with China’s Yunnan province.

China is in relentless pursuit of energy supplies and last week sealed a record gas deal with ExxonMobil for liquefied natural gas.

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