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Malaysia slammed over ‘torture’ of refugees

23 July 20200 comments

A group of Rohingya refugees who claim they were seeking safety and faced caning and seven months in jail after they were convicted under Malaysia’s controversial Immigration Act have been spared.

A Malaysian higher court reversed the decision to cane the Muslim refugees from Myanmar following an outcry from human rights activists.

Amnesty International and other activist groups had accused Malaysia of “human torture” over the punishment hand out to the Rohingya who arrived by boat.

A group of 31 Rohingya men who disembarked from a boat in April have since been convicted under the Immigration Act, and sentenced to seven months in prison, while at least 20 were sentenced to three strokes of the cane.

Nine women are also facing seven months in prison, while 14 children have been charged and are facing jail terms.

There is growing concern over the treatment of migrants and refugees in Malaysia, where mass raids were carried out in May.

Activists have warned of an alarming rise in xenophobia and inhumane treatment of the migrants.

Hundreds of arrests and a sharp rise in hate speech have shocked refugees and migrants who had seen Malaysia as a welcoming country, particularly for Muslims, despite not being signed up to the 1951 refugee convention.

And, recently Malaysia has been condemned for turning away boats carrying Rohingya refugees fleeing desperate conditions in camps in Bangladesh.

Some boats have been allowed to dock, but the hundreds of refugees aboard are understood to remain in detention, according to Amnesty International.

Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Malaysia researcher at Amnesty International, said: “The plan to viciously beat Rohingya refugees is not only cruel and inhuman – it’s unlawful under international standards. To inflict such a violent punishment as judicial caning amounts to torture.

“The men who face violent lashings on top of jail terms have already fled persecution and crimes against humanity in Myanmar. They also survived a dangerous journey at sea to Malaysia in search of safety. The inhumanity of this approach is atrocious,” she said.

Asylum seekers now fear being sent to detention centres, notorious for violence and illness. More than 700 cases of COVID-19 were reported in the centres in June, almost 10 per cent of the country’s total.

Refugees and aid workers say detention conditions are cramped and unsanitary, and food is limited.

Malaysian officials have denied poor treatment in the centres.

The immigration raids started in May after a surge in xenophobia after Malaysia was criticised for sending boats carrying hundreds of Rohingya refugees back to sea.

Almost 600 undocumented migrants were arrested in the first weekend. Authorities were criticised for rounding up residents and forcing them to sit on the ground without social distancing.

Malaysia does not officially grant refugee status, but hosts more than 170,000 UNHCR-registered people, mostly from Myanmar.

Tens of thousands more stay informally, having arrived by boat believing Malaysia would offer safety and freedom to work.

More recently, Syrians and Yemenis have arrived, and Malaysia is one of very few countries that offers them temporary tourist visas.

A new wave of xenophobic attacks began this month, coinciding with the airing of an Al Jazeera documentary which the government called “fake news”.

Six journalists who worked on the program are now being investigated for sedition.

And the Malaysian Government under Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has threatened to punish foreigners accused of comments aimed at damaging the nation’s image.

UNHCR said it has not had access to Malaysian detention centres since last August.