Refugee groups condemn Malaysia’s tracking system for refugees

·2-min read

Refugee groups have condemned the Malaysian government for approving the Tracking Refugees Information System (TRIS), which will be used to track the whereabouts of UNHCR cardholders.

In a joint statement, the Alliance of Chin Refugees and Beyond Borders said that, although the government’s obsession with tracking refugees is not new, the TRIS system was uniquely invasive, dehumanising and vulnerable to abuse.

They said that Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin’s remark that the system is not just to determine where refugees are living but also for other purposes of employment or to carry out other matters only goes to show that “the protection of refugees has been fashioned out to be about securitisation”.

This is especially concerning as Malaysia has seen an increase in the number of refugees arrested and detained in recent months.

Furthermore, the NGOs said the existence of such a system will only make matters worse, given the country’s unwillingness to commit to laws protecting refugees. TRIS would also limit the freedom of movement of refugees, who are already afraid of being stopped by authorities, and this will severely hamper their livelihoods.

“This system will only add to the risk factors they face in the country, as refugees will become easy targets for arrests, detention and even deportation despite Malaysia being bound by the non-refoulement principle,” they said.

The principle of non-refoulement binds Malaysia under customary international law and the country is obliged not to return refugees and asylum- seekers or any person to a frontier or territory where there is a risk of persecution, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

The groups urged the home minister to meet with refugee community leaders and civil society organisations before proceeding with this initiative, which he had hinted would become compulsory for all refugees.

In April, more than five hundred Rohingya refugees tried fleeing the Sungai Bakap temporary immigration depot in Penang. While most were eventually caught and returned to the depot, six of them, including two children, died while trying to cross the North-South expressway.

It was reported that the death of a detainee, who needed medical help but was ignored, had sparked fear among the refugees that led to the breakout.

As of May 2022, there are some 182,960 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia.

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