Minister Appears to Be in the Dark When Quizzed on Refugee Evictions

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Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh in Parliament today sought answers on what the government has been doing to manage refugees in Kuala Lumpur after the City Hall barred landlords from renting homes to undocumented migrants.

However, the Women, Family and Community Development Minister Rina Harun appeared to be in the dark on the situation – saying only that there are transit centres available for refugees.

On Sunday, The Malaysian Insight reported that at least 700 Rohingya refugees have lost their dwelling places in Kuala Lumpur last week.

DBKL had ordered landlords not to rent out to undocumented migrants from late May, according to FMT.

Malaysia is not a signatory of the UN refugee convention, leaving refugees in a legal grey area in the country.

Yeoh said the issue of homelessness among refugees in the city centre could become a security issue if the National Security Council and Rina’s ministry fail to coordinate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Rina responded by saying that her ministry had been working with the Home Ministry regarding the refugees, even during the movement control order (MCO).

“On the ministry’s side, not just now, but during the MCO, there were several refugees, including Rohingyas and others, and we have worked together with the Home Ministry.

“On issues involving migrants, we have to take the views and opinions of not just the Home Ministry but also the Foreign Ministry.

“This will be looked at from time to time but what’s important is that for children, under the Child Act, we will ensure their safety,” Rina said.

Yeoh, who is a former women, family, and community development deputy minister, interjected and said her question was unanswered.

Yeoh: My question hasn’t been answered. I want to ask, what is the immediate plan because they (refugees) have already been evicted and this will cause a homelessness problem and the numbers will go up. If we’re still discussing but the local council has already decided to evict them-

Rina: YB, you said they were going to be evicted? Meaning they haven’t been evicted?

Yeoh: Messages have gone viral. NGOs are trying to find places (to house them). They don’t know where to go. The government says they can’t stay at home, they can’t go out which is why.

Rina: We have transit centres for these refugees.

Yeoh: Have you met the UNHCR?

Deputy speaker Rashid Hasnon then ruled that the minister need not give an answer as this was not a debate and that any answers given during oral questions are sufficient.

He then ordered the House to move to the next question in the Order Paper.

When contacted, Yeoh reiterated that this could lead to bigger problems if not resolved.

“This will eventually be a security, health and safety issue if not discussed with UNHCR,” she was quoted as saying.

On July 11, Mahi Ramakhrisnan, who founded the Beyond Borders non-governmental organisation that has been helping refugees here, said her outfit was assisting 100 refugees who were suddenly told by their landlords to vacate their rented home in the city centre, following a warning from the Immigration Department.

Another refugee rights advocate, Hanif Mahfa, asserted that property owners were being forced to evict their refugee tenants as Malaysian law did not distinguish between refugees and other undocumented migrants.

Federal Territories Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa later expressed surprise over the revelation and said as those officially recognised by the UNHCR should be allowed to rent and not be evicted.

Malay Mail sighted a Federal Territories’ Immigration Department notice 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 groups.

It cited Section 55E of the Immigration Act 1959/63 (amendment 2002) that made it an offence to allow “illegal immigrants” into their premises.

First offenders may be fined between RM5,000 and RM30,000, imprisoned up to 12 months, or both, while subsequent offenders face a fine of between RM10,000 and RM60,000, up to two years’ imprisonment, or both.

Property owners are also liable for each “illegal immigrant found at the premises”.

Meanwhile, Annuar refuted claims by migrant rights group Tenaganita and others that 700 Rohingya refugees have lost their accommodation due to the new rule, saying he has no knowledge of the matter.

“If Tenaganita has the data, that would be good. I would like to know who they are, and which landlords are involved, because that’s not within our jurisdiction,” he told the press at Menara DBKL today.

FMT

“The ones who were caught were only undocumented migrants. There’s no such thing as refugees being evicted.”

Tenaganita last week said it has received complaints from refugees seeking shelter after they were forced out of their rented homes.

Annuar said foreigners with the UNHCR card will not be affected by the DBKL ruling, adding that the Immigration Department does not go after refugees.

His deputy, Edmund Santhara, said DBKL is only warning landlords against renting out to undocumented migrants, in accordance with the Immigration Act.

“This ruling is under the Immigration Act. It doesn’t allow migrants without legal documents to rent homes or give them protection.”

He said the Immigration Department has the right to arrest and detain illegals.

The refugees said to have been kicked out of their homes may have had personal issues with their landlords, and this is beyond the scope of DBKL’s authority, he added.