Friday, November 4, 2011

Imagine being a 21st century slave: 3 case studies of Burmese workers in Malaysia

John is a 23-year old ethnic Karen from Burma. He came to Malaysia about two years ago, and has since been working in restaurants around Klang Valley. John took up his first restaurant job about three months after his arrival. His main job was to wash the dishes, but he also had to do other cleaning chores at the restaurant, including cleaning the toilets. “I washed and cleaned everything they ordered me to.” He kept the job for about 8 months until he went to try to register for a UNHCR refugee card. “I was scolded afterwards. The boss didn’t want me to register with the UN—he just wouldn’t allow it. Some employers are afraid of the UN card. They don’t like it if we are registered with the UN refugee agency and have refugee cards.”

At present, John works in a food court in Sunway. On average, he works about 12 to 13 hours every day. The employers do provide him with three meals daily, but they take fresh ingredients from the fridge and cook for themselves—we are given stale food.” John mentioned that he does get one day off each week, but to his dismay it is not on Sunday so he is not able to not attend church.

John remarked that there are also documented workers from Vietnam where he works. John mentioned that these workers do not get scolded as much as the workers from Burma. John said it is the verbal abuse that hurts him most. “The employers often pick on us, saying bad things about us, saying that we are lazy people, things like that.” John said his working experience thus far has made him feel downhearted. “I feel ashamed for being here, I feel like my presence in Malaysia is a bother, it’s like we have interrupted the lives of people here. It’s not that I want to disturb the Malaysians. If I could, of course I would choose to work in my own country.”

18th century African slaves in Missouri

Confinement is also found in the service sector, and can be done by agents. San (32), an ethnic Burmese asylum seeker, recalled how he was once confined by agents who promised him a job at the hotel. “He kept me at a house with other people from Burma and Indonesia, including 3 women. We were locked in when they went out. The agent said he would give me a job if available. There were three guards in the agent’s house.” Workers are usually shuttled back and forth from the restaurant to their living quarters. John is housed in a place he refers to as a “hostel,” where he is not allowed visitors. He has to share a small room with five other people.

Similarly, Mei (22)—an ethnic Shan—was also confined at the agent’s place. Every day, she would be brought by the agent to a restaurant where she was put to work as a dishwasher. She was never allowed to go out, and only knew the restaurant and the agent’s place. “I only knew work, and off-work. Work, and off-work. I just followed the agents, wherever they took me to, I followed. I didn’t think of disobeying. If I didn’t follow… I don’t know what would happen.”

John recounted that his prayers were important in helping him to cope, but says, “I am usually in tears after I say my prayers.” He also gets by with support from some friends - fellow Karen refugees in Malaysia. Mei relies mostly upon herself, but feels alone and without anyone to turn to. Trying to avoid feeling upset or distressed, she says that she tries to “suppress her heart,” because crying only makes her feel worse. She also reminds herself that it could be worse, “because I still have my legs and my hands. […] There are people who are richer, they face more challenges. And then there are also people who are worse off, those who have it worse than me. I tell myself don’t think of bad things… think of happy things.”

Experiencing forced labour is a traumatic and stressful experience. Those who have to work in these conditions are able to cope, and keep their humanity, but the toll on their mental health is evident.

[Source: Health Equity Initiatives]


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Brutal treatment caused immigration detainees to riot

Refugees in a Malaysian immigration detention center outside Kuala Lumpur (AP)




1. Some 60 to 70 detained suspected illegal immigrants rioted at Lenggeng Immigration Detention Center (IDC) on April 21 [2008], setting fire to the temporary administration building according to press and firsthand accounts. Malaysia's Head of Immigration Enforcement claimed the riot started after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) refused the refugees' applications for resettlement, an allegation denied by UNHCR.

Based on multiple witnesses' accounts, the riot's catalyst was the severe beatings of detainees by Immigration Officers and People's Volunteer Corps (RELA) members assigned as guards to Lenggeng. The Malaysian Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) told us deplorable conditions, overcrowding and alleged abuses by RELA all contributed to the riot. We continue to express concern to the GOM regarding RELA's increased authority over immigration enforcement. End Summary.

[Read the full report here.]


Monday, October 31, 2011

Forced to work 12-hour days, 7 days a week, for RM420 a month...

Although the number of refugees and asylum seekers working in [Malaysian plantations] is not as high as those working in other sectors, Health Equity Initiatives’ research shows that those who have worked in plantations show more significant symptoms of anxiety compared to other sectors. The most worrying aspect about forced labor in the plantations is that it can often last for years, longer than in other sectors. Plantations are usually located in remote places, making it easier for employers to confine workers without being noticed. Forced labor with physical confinement is probably the worst – as it is very difficult for victims to look for help and employers can impose more penalties...

 Burmese refugees approved under the Malaysia solution arrive in Melbourne (pic by Stuart McEvoy)
Kyawt is a 24-year old ethnic Chin refugee from Burma and a mother of two who first came to Malaysia four years ago. Through friends, she found a job at a flower farm in Cameron Highlands, unaware that she would have to spend two years confined there.

There were many workers of different nationalities at the farm. Bangladeshis, Nepalese and Indonesians were allowed to go outside of the compound, because they had passports. The undocumented Burmese were specifically ordered never to go out. “The boss locked the gate, he’s not nice,” Kyawt recalled. “He wouldn’t even allow family visits and deducted my salary when my brother came to the farm and tried to see me.”

A flower farm in Cameron Highlands (pic courtesy of Random Shots)
Kyawt had long working days of up to twelve hours, seven days a week, with a wage of only RM14 per day. She was never given off-days even when she was sick. “The boss and his children were bad people. They shouted at us and always threatened to cut our wages when we made mistakes.” Kyawt said she felt very sad during the time she was in forced labour, but she felt like she had no choice.“Sometimes I wanted to quit. But […] I asked myself, if there’s no job, should I live unemployed?”

Detention camp in Malaysia (Reuters pic)
Like Kyawt, Min was also confined in the plantation where he worked. He previously worked at a restaurant, but his boss decided that he was not presentable to work there. He then sold Min to a plantation owner in Alor Setar for RM1,000. “I was not aware that I had been sold [but] the boss always said, ‘I have paid RM1,000 to your boss, so you must work for a year. Until then, you cannot quit.” He never received any wage. “While I was there, the compound was locked and […] surrounded by sharp metal wires. [It] was very remote and I couldn’t even see any vehicles around. I couldn’t go anywhere …” As in Kyawt’s case, other documented workers were able to move freely. The plantation owner threatened that if Min ever tried to run away, he would call the Immigration authorities to arrest him.

Min worked 11 hours a day, even when it rained. He was given only two meals every day, usually only rice and leftover vegetables from the plantation. “The boss gave me a container for me to collect rainwater for bath and other purposes.” His main job was to spray insecticide, but he was not given a facemask. He even had to use clothes left by previous workers because the boss refused to “spend more money” on him.

Helpless and hopeless in Malaysia
(courtesy of AP)
Min said that the experience was really hard for him. “At that time, I couldn’t even see myself as a human. The situation really drove me crazy and I felt like I wanted to die.” It was also during this time that he heard about the deaths of his mother and younger sister. “There was no one for me to speak to. The pain I felt was unspeakable.”

Although he eventually managed to escape from the plantation compound, Min said that he continues to feel gripped with fear. “I don’t feel safe. I always feel like the boss will come and do something to me.” There is never a night when he can sleep well and he always wakes up startled. He has trouble distinguishing dreams from reality. “When I sleep it doesn’t feel like sleep, and everything I have experienced comes to my head.”

Min’s testimony is sadly common, showing how hurtful effects on mental health last long after experiencing forced labor.

[Source: Health Equity Initiatives]


Sunday, October 30, 2011

New doco on human trafficking ~ NOT MY LIFE

Click here for preview and background info.

How is it possible that such cruelty and insensitivity can exist in the human world? It seems the dark underbelly of our reality is like a writhing viper pit of vampires, ghouls, parasites and predators disguised as human beings. They often work in cahoots with corrupt regimes and have agents planted in immigration departments.

Malaysia is among the most dangerous countries in the world to be a refugee.  

Unknown thousands of unfortunates have been captured and sold to slave traders across the border or kept under conditions that would appall and outrage animal lovers if such treatment was doled out to zoo animals. The BN regime does almost nothing about the refugee issue apart from deny, deny, deny - and then engage expensive public relations consultants to restore its dented image.

On Monday, 31 October 2011, a week-long campaign kicks off to alert Malaysians to what is happening right under their noses. It isn't hard to believe - we've all seen what happened to young men like Ananthan Kugan and Teoh Beng Hock who both died in custody under unexplained circumstances. Their killers have been protected by the ruling regime. Only under heavy pressure from the public do they make a show of initiating inquests and inquiries that drag on for months, even years, and lead absolutely nowhere.

It's time to tear the mask of fake respectability off their hypocritical faces!

Among the worst off would be the Burmese refugees in Malaysia...
Watch this 3-minute video and sign the petition, please!