MPs slam UNHCR move to cease refugee status for Chins

(From left) Dawt Ceu Bik, a representative from the Chin refugee community, James Bawi Thang Bik, Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah and Klang MP Charles Santiago.

KUALA LUMPUR: Two MPs have urged the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to review its decision to withdraw the refugee status of the Chin ethnic group in Malaysia, saying the state in Myanmar is still unsafe for repatriation.

Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah said Putrajaya was likely to initiate repatriation as suggested by UNHCR.

However, she also reiterated Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah’s position that the policy should be reconsidered.

“I feel that we have to review the situation because it is about saving lives. We can’t be sending them back to an unsafe environment if we know that it’s unsafe,” she said.

There are presently about 40,000 Chin refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia, only 24,000 of whom are registered.

James Bawi Thang Bik, coordinator of the Alliance of Chin Refugees, said the new policy puts the future of their children at risk.

“They have been born and raised here. They would be forced to return to a place where they know little or nothing at all.

“There is little prospect of them continuing their education formally or being guaranteed a safe, healthy and secure environment as required by the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” he told reporters during a press conference on the sidelines of a Chin National Day celebration in Kuala Lumpur this morning.

Klang MP Charles Santiago suggested ratifying the 1951 refugee convention which oversees refugee management in the country.

“Refugees have become a big part of Malaysia. Therefore, it’s time that their rights and our support for them and their families is protected by law in Malaysia,” he said.

In June last year, UNHCR announced that the Chin population would no longer be considered refugees as of Jan 1, 2020, when all protection for Chin refugees will end accordingly.

UNHCR also declared the Chin state safe for return.

The Chin community, one of the major ethnic groups in Myanmar, originates from the Chin state in western Myanmar.