Burmese in Malaysia Seek Help in Open Letter to President’s Office

By Saw Yan Naing 19 June 2013

An advocacy group for Burmese communities in Malaysia has sent an open letter to President Thein Sein, calling on the government to provide better protection and assistance to its citizens in Malaysia after a series of violent attacks there that targeted Burmese nationals.

The letter was sent to the President’s Office by a Kuala Lumpur-based Burmese rights group known as the Myanmar Nationalistic Social Network Committee (MNSNC) on Tuesday. Separate letters were also sent to the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Myat Ko, a leading member of the MNSNC in Kuala Lumpur, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the return process for many Burmese people seeking to return home from Malaysia had faced unacceptable delays. Some will have to wait as long as three months before being granted a “special pass” in order to fly back to Burma.

Despite reduced airfare offers and the assistance of some Burmese businessmen, who have provided financial support to help their countrymen in Malaysia return home, Burmese communities in the fellow Asean nation say they still face obstacles and restrictions to repatriation.

Among the restrictions, the Burmese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur limits the number of people to whom it issues a “certificate of identity,” which is required in order to leave the country. The embassy grants CIs to no more than 20 people wanting to return to Burma each day, according to the letter from the Burmese rights group.

“A lot of people went to the embassy yesterday, but only 20 of them were granted the CI,” Myat Ko said on Wednesday. “Before there was no limit. It started yesterday. So, we sent the letter to the President’s Office [to seek help].”

He also said that many Burmese migrants had delayed their returns because they were ordered by Malaysia’s immigration authority to return to its office for further processing in three months’ time.

“People have to wait for three months. They can’t go home as soon as they want. So, these people are also vulnerable to arrest. Some are in tears because they can’t return sooner,” Myat Ko explained.

The rights group also accused the embassy of providing inadequate assistance to Burmese nationals wanting to return to Burma. Officials were blamed for poorly handling the repatriation plans, failing to clearly announce how and whom Burmese nationals should contact about returning to Burma.

According to Myat Ko, some agents at the Burmese Embassy were able to arrange everything for those seeking to return home, but that assistance was only provided to Burmese migrants willing and able to pay between 1,400-1,500 Malaysian ringgit (US$440-$475) to the agents. Those who pay are guaranteed flights back to Burma within two weeks.

On Friday, Burmese state-run media reported that a total of five people were killed in attacks that began on May 30 and targeted Burmese nationals in Malaysia. Several others have been hospitalized. The violence has been linked to recent religious strife in Burma, where attacks by the Buddhist majority on the nation’s minority Muslims have left hundreds dead and more than 150,000 displaced over the last year.

Several of Burma’s richest businessmen, including Aung Ko Win, chairman of Kanbawza Bank, Zaw Zaw, the managing director of the Max Myanmar Group, and Tay Za, founder of the Htoo Trading Company, have recently pledged financial assistance and employment opportunities to Burmese migrants in Malaysia wishing to return home.