KUALA LUMPUR, July 11 — More than 100 refugees here are at risk of losing their rented homes amid an ongoing Immigration operation to weed out undocumented migrants by focusing on punitive action against landlords.
Beyond Borders founder Mahi Ramakhrisnan, a non-governmental organisation that has been helping refugees here, told Malay Mail today that her outfit is helping 100 refugees who were suddenly told by their landlords to clear out yesterday, following a warning from the Immigration Department.
She said her network is working together to find shelter for the refugees as the majority of those being chased out are United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) cardholders.
“Lumping the refugees and undocumented migrants in the same group does not make sense.
“There need to be clear distinction between refugees and undocumented immigrants by the government and these people should be allowed to rent the place to live here,” she said.
Malay Mail sighted a notice by the Federal Territory Immigration Department that said it had received reports of undocumented migrants in several areas and would take action against owners who rent out their properties to these people as Section 55E of the Immigration Act 1959/63 (amendment 2002) makes it an offence to allow “illegal immigrants” into their premises. First offenders can be fined a minimum of RM5,000 up to RM30,000, or jailed up to 12 months, or both while subsequent offenders face a fine of not less than RM10,000 up to RM60,000, or jail up to two years, or both. The punishment is subject to each “illegal immigrant found at the premises”.
Malay Mail has contacted the Immigration Department for comment.
Mahi said that during the movement control order (MCO) period, the refugees in the area had got help from NGOs and donations from Malaysians to help them survive the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown.
“Now there is a donor fatigue, and understandably it is a challenge. However, the action is unnecessary as we should be working together,” she said.
Mahi said the refugees were far from being undocumented as they are registered with UNHCR and were only in Malaysia temporarily before they could move to a third country.
“According to UNHCR, we have more than 100,000 refugees, if they are evicted where will they go?” she asked.
“The refugees are fleeing persecution and war from where they come from.
“I hope that the government can sooner rather than later announce that the refugees can rent houses in the country,” she said.
Another refugee rights advocate Hanif Mahfa fears such tactics by the authorities may result in a rise in anti-refugee sentiments, on top of making refugees lose their refuge.
He claimed homeowners are being forced to evict their refugee tenants as the law does not distinguish between refugees and undocumented migrants.
“The root of the cause is because according to the law, refugees are treated the same as the undocumented migrants.
“I do not blame the current government for this, but the government has never had any commitment to resolve this problem,” he said.
Hanif urged Malaysians to be more understanding of refugees who were forced to leave the country of their birth.
“We should have empathy for the refugees. They don’t have their own government and no place to depend on,” he said.
* Editor’s note: An earlier version contained several errors, including the name of Beyond Borders and have since been corrected. Malay Mail apologises for the errors.
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