When one complains about human rights abuses in Malaysia, many Malaysians like to claim that at least we are better off than Burma. That is however not true for Burmese refugees in Malaysia. They may have escaped the horrors of living under the military rule of the junta in Burma, but here in Malaysia they live a life of fear all over again. As Malaysia is not a signatory of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Burmese refugees do not have rights in this country. Because of this, they are subject to all sorts of abuses, both by the authorities and fellow Malaysians.

Forced to hide in crammed apartments or makeshift encampments in forests, refugees live in constant fear of being detained by the Malaysian police, immigration officers and RELA volunteers. When caught, they are often abused, extorted for money, or sent to overcrowded and unhygienic detention centres. Sometimes they are even sold to human traffickers as slave labour or prostitutes. As the deplorable situation of Burmese refugees in Malaysia gains international attention, it’s high time for us to examine the human suffering we are causing.


Burmese refugees and asylum seekers started running to Malaysia more than 20 years ago and the number has increased since then. Currently, there are more than 60,000 Burmese refugees registered with UNHCR but thousands more are unregistered.

Between 2002 to 2008, more than 4,800 Burmese were whipped for immigration offences.

In 2008, 812 Burmese children were detained in immigration detention centres.

In May 2009, two Burmese asylum seekers died at the Juru detention centre due to Leptospirosis, a disease linked to contamination of food or water. In August/September 2009, another six Burmese died due to suspected Leptospirosis.

In Malaysia, many refugees live in poverty. They have difficulties finding jobs due to their illegal status. Even when they can find jobs, they are usually underpaid and vulnerable to abuse from unscrupulous employers.

Refugee children do not have access to public schools. As such, generations of uneducated refugees are being raised here in Malaysia.

As refugees remain unrecognized by the Malaysian Government, they live in constant fear of raids, arrest and detention. Conditions in detention centres face continuous problems of overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, malnourishment and ill-treatment of detainees. Once detained, they never know when they will be released. Many have died in detention centres.

They cannot go back to Burma for fear of their lives, and yet everyday they live in fear here.


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