Governments should provide full protection to Rohingya, respect right to liberty
(Bangkok, March 11, 2016)—The Governments of Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia should end the indefinite detention of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and provide them with full protection, said Fortify Rights and the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK (BROUK) in a new briefing published today. Almost ten months after human trafficking syndicates abandoned thousands of Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshis in the Andaman Sea, Rohingya refugees continue to lack protections in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
“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 Mr. Tun Khin, President of BROUK. “ASEAN can and should do better.”
The 17-page briefing, “Everywhere is Trouble,” is based on meetings with government officials, United Nations officials, and nongovernmental organizations; visits to an immigration detention center (IDC), government-operated shelter, and refugee camps; and interviews with Rohingya refugees and survivors of human trafficking.
In Thailand, authorities continue to detain several hundred Rohingya in IDCs and government-run shelters. BROUK and Fortify Rights found that Thai Immigration authorities have detained at least 40 Rohingya refugees for more than ten months in squalid facilities at the Songkhla IDC, including reportedly a dozen or more boys under the age of 18. All of the children in the Songkhla IDC are reportedly unaccompanied. Detainees told BROUK and Fortify Rights that they are confined to an overcrowded cell, where they sleep side-by-side on the floor. Detainees in Songkhla said that they lack access to healthcare, mental health services, and opportunities to exercise or be in open air for any period of time.
“Thailand should immediately stop detaining refugees,” said Matthew Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “The treatment of refugees in these facilities is inhumane and undignified, and the detention of refugee children is particularly shameful and should end immediately.”
International law forbids arbitrary, unlawful, or indefinite detention, including of non-nationals. A state may only restrict the right of liberty of migrants in exceptional cases following a detailed assessment of the individual concerned. Any detention must be necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate aim. Failure to consider less coercive or restrictive means to achieve that aim may also render the detention arbitrary.
In Malaysia, thousands of Rohingya refugees are detained in IDCs throughout the country. Rohingya survivors from the May 2015 boat crisis reportedly remain detained in Belantik Immigration Detention Center, where access by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and service providers is extremely limited.
Rohingya refugees in Kuala Lumpur and Penang told BROUK and Fortify Rights that the police routinely use the threat of arrest to extort money and property from them, particularly if they are unable to produce proper documentation or a card demonstrating they are a registered asylum seeker with UNHCR.
Changes in UNHCR’s registration practices in Malaysia have considerably narrowed access to asylum procedures for Rohingya refugees, BROUK and Fortify Rights said, leaving many without any documents and at risk of serious security concerns, including the possibility of indefinite detention. Rohingya refugees in Malaysia said the lack of access to UNHCR registration is the single-most important issue they face, followed by 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,” lamented an undocumented Rohingya-refugee woman living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia since June 2014. “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 fishers courageously rescued at sea more than 1,000 survivors of human trafficking. Today, Rohingya survivors from the May boat crisis are confined to camps in Aceh, Indonesia. Rohingya refugees living in the camps are not free to leave the camps and must depend on service providers for basic necessities. Rohingya refugees living in other parts of Indonesia with UNHCR status lack freedom of movement in the country.
Indonesian authorities effectively deported BROUK President Tun Khin on March 6, following a meeting between him and Rohingya refugees in Makassar. Immigration officials arrived at the community meeting unannounced, took Tun Khin’s UK passport and also threatened to deport and confiscate the UNHCR cards of the refugees who participated in the meeting.
BROUK and Fortify Rights believe the Indonesian authorities attempted to intimidate Tun Khin in order to discourage him from providing moral and advocacy support for the refugee community in Indonesia.
BROUK and Fortify Rights called on 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.
“Rohingya refugees have long contributed positively to societies throughout the region when they have the opportunity to do so,” said Amy Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “It’s in everyone’s interest that Rohingya refugees are provided with full protections.”