BY PIP HINMAN
The Malaysian government is determined to deport Acehnese refugees who have attempted to apply for refugee status with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Kuala Lumpur.
The Indonesian coordinating minister for political and security affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono welcomed the Malaysian government's decision.
On August 19, Malaysian police rounded up more than 400 Acehnese, including women and children, outside the UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur. The refugees had fled the Indonesian government's war in Aceh and were trying to apply for refugee status and third-country settlement. Some held documents issued by the UNHCR that identified them as awaiting resettlement. About 100 Acehnese were already inside the UN office waiting to lodge applications when the police swooped.
Eric Paulsen of the Malaysian human rights group Suaram said that the refugees were taken to a deportation camp. A spokesperson for the UNHCR called for the refugees' release and urged the Malaysian government to grant them temporary protection and "ensure they are treated in accordance with international standards".
Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and does not recognise political refugees. Despite police harassment, the UNHCR has issued temporary protection letters on behalf of the detained Acehnese. International law states that people given refugee status cannot be deported against their will. The UNHCR said that Malaysia is obligated not to deport immigrants to a region where a conflict continues.
On August 20, Malaysia's deputy prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, said that 232 of the 400 asylum-seekers would be treated as illegal immigrants and deported. Agence France Press reported on August 25 that of the 232, 120 had agreed to go back.
Please demand that the refugees be allowed to stay in Malaysia. Send letters to: Dato Seri Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad, Prime Minister's Office, Federal Government Administration Center, 62502 Putrajaya, Malaysia. Fax +603 8888 3444 or email <email@example.com>.
Please send copies to: Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman, Chairman of National Human Rights Commission, 29th floor, Menara Tun Razak, Jalan Raja Laut, 50350 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
From Green Left Weekly, September 3, 2003.
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