Chin Refugee Committee Urges UNHCR to Shelve Repatriation Plan

By Chit Min Tun 2 November 2018

YANGON — The Chin Refugee Support Committee (CRSC) has urged the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to shelve its plan to repatriate Chin refugees in Malaysia to Myanmar.

The UNHCR announced in June that refugee protection for the Chin community in Malaysia would be phased out starting August 2018, stating that their homeland was safe for return.

Chin refugees applying for a renewal of their refugee status will only receive an extension until Dec. 31, 2019, said the UNHCR.

The CRSC in a statement on Oct. 31 said the UNHCR’s decision shocked the Chin refugee community in Malaysia, adding that some Chin refugees including a young girl attempted to commit suicide following the UNHCR announcement.

“For their return, the [Myanmar] government should let them come back officially at the very least. It is difficult for them to come back without official repatriation,” said Salai Issac Khin of the CRSC.

“Some have been living in Malaysia for about seven years and they need to apply for citizenship registration cards [to return]. Another problem is education. The children have been learning at refugee camp schools. So, the question is which grades they should attend when they come back,” he added.

The Myanmar government should grant pardons for Chin refugees so that they are not charged under immigration laws. Moreover, there is a need to provide sources of livelihood for the returnees, he said.

According to the CRSC, there are some 31,000 Chin refugees in Malaysia, and 16,000 of them hold UNHCR cards, which are recognized by Malaysian law enforcement agencies. These cards prevent refugees from being arrested and deported.

The UNHCR has promised to send 6,000 of them to a third country, said Salai Issac Khin.

“So, this means that at least 25,000 will be affected by the UNHCR’s plan to end refugee status,” he said.

Though the UNHCR said that Chin State is now safe and stable for return, the Chin community has pointed out frequent clashes between the Myanmar Army and the Arakan Army (AA) in Chin State’s Paletwa Township, saying that clashes and landmines have caused displacement, casualties and injuries.

Malaysian foreign minister Saifuddin said at a press conference on Oct. 24 that the Malaysian government would not force refugees to return to Myanmar if it is unsafe, despite the fact that Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.