AI Asia Pacific calls Malaysian minister to halt mass deportation

Press Release

17 February 2005

As part of continuing efforts to regulate migration flows, in July of last year, Malaysian Home Affairs Minister Azmi Khalid announced plans to expel more than one million ‘illegal immigrants’, many of whom are undocumented migrant workers, from the country by the end of 2005. This is part of Malaysia’s periodical implementation of “special operation: mass expulsions” within specified time frames. Amnesty International (AI) believes that the government’s mass deportation has been resulting into serious human rights violations. This year’s expulsion is definitely not a first of its kind.

In an open letter sent to Minister Khalid last February 15 2005, AI’s Asia-Pacific Section Directors expressed their concerns about the plans for deportation which will begin on the 1st of March. While AI recognizes the Malaysian government’s sovereign right to control its borders from its territory, it is likely that the intended arrests and deportation of over one million ‘illegal immigrants’ will also target persons who are in fact refugees and asylum seekers.

 “The ‘softer approach’ or a less callous procedure of deportation may seem a promising way of persuading undocumented migrants to leave the country, but this doesn’t change the fact that refugees may still be at risk of being subjected to serious human rights violations if returned to their country of origin.” Said Jessica Umanos-Soto, Executive Director of AI Pilipinas

Long before the Asian Tsunami, AI has urged the Malaysian authorities not to return any Acehnese to Indonesia, where they remain at risk. The organization cited the unstable political situation in Nepal and Myanmar as well, which will likely to cause serious human rights violation to Nepalese and Burmese migrants.

AI urges the Malaysian government to respect the fundamental human rights of migrant workers whether documented or undocumented, ratify the Migrant Workers Convention, and implement effectively its provisions. Under the terms of this Convention, migrant workers are entitled to fundamental rights, such as an individual examination of their situation before deportation and humane conditions while being held in detention.

“AI has received alleged reports of ill-treatment of undocumented women migrant workers in detention centers. In fact, one defender of migrant’s rights, Irene Fernandez, who is currently in detention herself for exposing patterns of ill-treatment, sexual abuse and denial of adequate medical care in detention, has interviewed Pinays in the detention center. Many of our kababayan’s are also at risk” Soto said.

The collective nature of this expulsion makes it virtually impossible for the Malaysian government to guarantee fundamental rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Migrants, especially women, children and the elderly, are likely to be caught up in the net of the Malaysian government’s mass deportation policy.  The government should not be thinking about mass expulsion until it can guarantee the rights of those involved, it needs to guarantee individual assessments and access to refugee status determination, according to AI.