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Some 800 Burmese migrants have begun a hunger strike in a Malaysian immigration camp after the UN’s refugee agency stopped interviewing detainees about potential refugee status.
One detainee on hunger strike told DVB that officials from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had also “stopped coming to pick up those who passed the interview” at the Lenggeng camp in Negeri Sembilan province.
Passing the UNHCR interview would make the detainees, which number around 1,500 in the Lenggeng camp in southwestern Malaysia, eligible for refugee status.
Estimates for the overall number of Burmese men, women and children migrants held in detention centres across Malaysia number around 5,000. They are often held in poor conditions with only sporadic access to UN officials.
The hunger strike began on the evening of 12 June. Three days earlier, the water supply to the camp had been cut off, and detainees were complaining that camp wardens had denied detainees drinking water.
“Detainees from all four [camp] wards – most of them Burmese, Indonesian and Bangladeshi – suffered from dysentery,” said the man. “The medical assistance in the camp is too weak and we want to get out of here immediately. We wrote a message [in the camp] saying: ‘We need UNHCR’.”
In February this year around one thousand detained migrants, mainly Burmese, in Lenggeng staged a hunger strike in protest at severe overcrowding and lack of UNHCR access.
And last week around 200 Burmese and Vietnamese detainees rioted in the Ajil immigration camp, with reports that they had tried to set fire to the camp’s administration office.
A report released yesterday by Amnesty International urged the Malaysian government to “give refugees in the country the right to work” after documenting “a litany of abuses suffered by refugees in Malaysia, the vast majority of whom are from Myanmar [Burma]”.
The report added that refugees in Malaysia are subjected to “arbitrary arrest, detention in appalling conditions, caning, extortion, human trafficking and deportation back to the persecution that they fled”.
And the annual US state department’s Trafficking in Persons report also released this week said that the People’s Volunteer Corps (RELA) in Malaysia continued to arbitrarily detain refugees and asylum seekers, and is involved in trafficking.
Refugees in Malaysia are “particularly vulnerable to trafficking”, the report said, adding that there had been little progress in convicting traffickers. The issue of Burmese migrants has been a sore point for the Malaysian government; last year it was revealed that senior Malaysian immigration officials had been complicit in the trafficking of Burmese nationals.