While they wait, they get arrested, again, and again.
Chin refugees buy time in Malaysia, waiting for resettlement in a safe country.
While they wait, they get arrested, again, and again.
In Malaysia, immigration enforcement raids are often carried out by Rela, a volunteer police force, which many outside observers see as a deputized gang of thugs.
According to an article published in Thaindian News, “Kuala Lumpur, Dec 7 (IANS) The Malaysian Bar Council has called for Rela, the civilian vigilante organisation tasked to detect illegal migrants, to be disbanded following numerous reports that allege ‘”members” abuse of their powers during enforcement raids.”
Victor Sang, the coordinator of the Chin Refugee Center, Malaysia said that the Chin refugees get arrested by Rela nearly every Sunday morning. When they get arrested on Sunday mornings, “Rela takes them to police headquarters and ask for 200 Ringit to release them. If they don’t have 200 Ringit, then Rela comes down to 100 and then by 10:00 PM they allow people to leave for 5 Ringit. Almost every Sunday they arrest the same people.”
If Chin are arrested by the legitimate police, they are not sent back to Burma. According to Victor, “They deport them to the Thai border. But now, sometimes, they put them in the detention center. And the UNHCR cannot visit them. There are about 500 Chin in detention. One girl gave birth in detention. She and the baby are still locked up.”
A new problem faced by the Chin in Malaysia is beatings and robbery by Indian gangs.
“Locals kidnapped refugees. This is the new thing.” Explained Victor. “They want money from the refugee community. Two of our people were captured, beaten and stabbed. Then they demanded a ransom. They gave us a bank account number, and we paid in 3,000 Ringit. They gave us the people back. We told the police the story, but they did nothing. Now they have kidnapped someone else. The victims said it was a taxi driver who took them somewhere, they didn’t know where. The kidnappers told the victims to call their family begging for money.”
Victor told me the hair-raising story of how he himself survived the refugee path. “When the government allowed tourists into Burma they didn’t allow them into Chin State because some tourists witnessed human rights violations.”
“I worked as a tourist guide when I was a student” in the capitol, Yangon. “There were always government agents following me and asking me questions.”
In 1996 Victor took part in a pro-democracy demonstration in front of Aung San Suu Kyi‘s house.
“I was arrested, but I was very lucky. My university professor came and got me out of jail. But we were told to get out of Rangoon.” If Victor hadn’t taken advice and gotten out, he knew that his fate would be a midnight arrest. “They don’t arrest people openly. They come at night.”
“I was trafficked through Thailand,” began Victor. “They are very greedy these traffickers. They squeeze at least 15 people in one car at least 5 people in the back boot. I was in the back boot for 6 hours. We almost died. In the front seat one person is stooping and one is sitting, twelve people in one car. The traffickers made a line of thirty or forty of us and led us through the jungle.”
“I was arrested twice and beaten. I was captured by Thai human traffickers. They kept me in the jungle for eight days, but I ran away. If not, they would have sold me to a fishing boat. Most of the girls will be raped. Some will be stabbed if they resist.”
In February, 2001 Victor was among the first group of Chin to approach the UNHCR for help.
“There were only 4,000 Chins in Malaysia then. So, I and 400 people applied. But the UNHCR didn’t even know who the Chin were. Three hundred and eighty people were denied. But luckily the Canada government recognized me directly.”
“I left Burma and I lost my education. But, I went to Canada and graduated with a law degree in 2004.”
Victor, as most Burma observers, is not optimistic about change in Burma. Victor commented on former dictator Ne Win: “Ne Win was so strong, but he couldn’t survive the demonstrations.” Ne Win stepped down after the massive protests and blood baths. The current dictator, Than Schwe, on the other hand, seemed to have a grip on power that no former dictator ever had. “But Than Schwe, how many years has he been in power? How many demonstrations has he survived?”
The Burma government has been publicizing their upcoming elections, touting this as a first step towards democracy. Nearly all foreign observers, as well as most Burmese themselves, believe the elections will be a sham. The junta have already banned opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi from running for office, and forced her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), to dissolve.
Some ASEAN members have applied a head-in-the-sand strategy for dealing with the war in Burma, as a way of not having to acknowledge their guilt for admitting Burma to ASEAN.
“The Malaysian government is saying that with the upcoming elections in Burma, there will be civilians in government, so the refugees can go home. And there won’t be more refugee influx from Burma,” concluded Victor.
The other director shook his head sadly. “There will be no election in Burma. There will only be a selection of hand picked military people. Nothing will change.”
Nothing will change in Burma. And nothing will change for the Chin refugees who are out of the frying pan, but still next to the fire.