The deportation from Malaysia of ‘illegal immigrants’ turned violent on March 26 when a number of refugees were shot and killed in police firing at Semenyih camp in Selangor. Malaysian police sources admitted to a total of nine deaths, including one policeman, but other sources put the death toll at 25 with scores seriously injured.
Three other camps - Macat Umbon, Lenggeng and Juru - in different parts of the country were raided that day and a total of 545 ‘illegal immigrants’ were rounded up for deportation. The immigrants were dumped into trucks like cattle and taken under heavy military guard to Port Klang, in Selangor, Malaysia for shipment to Lhok Seumawe in north Acheh, Indonesia.
Eight refugees from Semenyih camp, who were injured in police firing, died on the way to Port Lumut. Hospital sources in Lhok Seumawe confirmed that five seriously wounded deportees had died after being admitted upon arrival.
Malaysian authorities have said that with the economic downturn, they cannot afford to give jobs to illegal immigrants from other countries. There are an estimated three million immigrants among Malaysia’s eight-million work force. The immigrants, most of them from Indonesia, were given the dirtiest and lowest paid jobs which Malaysians did not want. Now the immigrants are not wanted.
Since January, Malaysia has deported more than 19,000 immigrants. The question of ‘illegal’ immigrants is one thing; the Malaysian regime appears to have given in to the demands of Indonesia to deport Achenese who are genuine political refugees. The Achenese have been persecuted for decades by the Javanese-dominated Indonesian military.
Following a meeting between Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamed and Indonesian vice president B J Habibie in Kuala Lumpur on March 29, the Malaysian prime minister said our neighbour ‘understands our situation... and ready to cooperate with us closely.’ Naturally, if Mahathir hands over the Achenese to Indonesia, his larger neighbour would be only too happy with this arrangement.
The deportation of Achenese refugees is of particular concern. Among those deported over the last three weeks are a number of Achenese political asylum seekers. Their forcible return to Indonesia has aroused grave concern not only among Achenese but also among human rights organisations both in Malaysia and abroad. Tim Paritt of Amnesty International was quoted by Reuters news agency on March 29 as saying: ‘We are very concerned that there are genuine asylum seekers... There is a risk there will be some real victims.’
This was reinforced by a news report in the Acheh newspaper, Serambi Indonesia, of April 2 that the deportees from Malaysia had been moved to Rancung camp in Lhok Seumawe. This is one of the most notorious camps in Acheh where hundreds, perhaps thousands of supporters of the Free Acheh Movement died in 1990-1992. Many simply disappeared and are presumed dead.
According to an April 2 press release by the Association for a Free Acheh from Stockholm, 51 Achenese refugees in Malaysia are confirmed dead in police firing in Malaysia. There are believed to be some 3,000 Achenese political refugees, many of whom have simply disappeared. The Association for a Free Acheh has expressed concern at the whereabouts of some of its members whose list it released on March 30.
Also on March 30, 14 Achenese refugees crashed their truck into the UNHCR compound in Kuala Lumpur seeking protection. They asked the UN agency for asylum and urged that they not be deported to Indonesia. The Malaysian special branch has refused to accept papers issued by the UNHCR or the Malaysian immigration department.
There are nine detention camps in Malaysia holding 10,000 ‘illegal immigrants.’ Semenyih, the largest, held 2,000 detainees in dismal conditions. According to inmates at the camp, torture was rampant. Detainees were put on a daily diet watery soup that gradually sapped their energies. They were too weak to escape. At least 70 died under torture although the government officially registered their deaths as being the result of ‘gastric problems.’
If the Indonesian immigrants and Achenese refugees prefer such deplorable conditions to being deported to Indonesia, there must be something horribly wrong in Suharto’s gulag archipelago. Clearly, Malaysia’s economic hard times have hardened the hearts of its rulers who do not care if innocent people are deported to a certain tortuous death.
Muslimedia: April 16-30, 1998