Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 23rd 2014 Contents A42
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt November 23, 2014
Malaysia---Tightly clutching her
Sri Lankan identity cards, 41-year-
old Mala struggled to hide her fear
as she told her story.
In her shaking hand she held an
eight-page appeal, written in a curvy
Tamil script that detailed her family s
troubled life in Sri Lanka s once war-
ravaged north, caught between gov-
ernment forces and rebel Tamil
groups, scared of the military and
fearful of retribution.
The appeal was meant for the UN
High Commissioner for Refugees and
was their last chance to secure UN
recognition as refugees; a status that
would give Mala and her three chil-
dren a measure of stability in their
"Every single day I feel scared,"
Mala said through an interpreter at
a community centre set up by fellow
Tamils from Sri Lanka, requesting
her real name be concealed.
Fleeing civil war
Many of the 4,300 Sri Lankan
Tamils now in Malaysia lived for years
under the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam, which fought for more than
a quarter of a century for an inde-
pendent Tamil homeland and estab-
lished its own quasi-government
centred in the town of Kilinochchi.
As the civil war came to a brutal
end in 2009, many civilians fled the
country, but even in Malaysia their
lives have been shadowed by the
The arrest and deportation this
year of a number of men, some of
whom had refugee cards, but were
accused of being members of the
Tigers has added to the unease.
"It s like we were all going together
towards the light and suddenly we
were left behind in the dark," said
Ranjini Baskaran, a committee mem-
ber at the Sri Lankan Tamils Refugee
Organisation of Malaysia (Strom).
"How can people live like that?"
Strom was set up four years ago
to help the community communicate
with the commission, which is
responsible for deciding refugee sta-
tus in Malaysia. From its office in a
rundown commercial area on the
outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, staff pro-
vide education---refugees are not
allowed to attend Malaysian schools---
practical advice, and emotional sup-
Refugee advocates say at least 60
cases have been rejected in the past
year, but Strom s leaders argue that
many of those refused are genuine.
Applicants have just one chance to
appeal and many pour their souls
into the letter, desperate for a
The UN refugee agency, which has
150,000 refugees on its books, mostly
from Myanmar, said it s doing all it
can to assist those needing its pro-
"There have been a number of
people sent back to their country of
origin against our very express and
strong concern this year," Richard
Towle, the commission s represen-
tative for Malaysia, said.
"Those (concerns) have been
shared and communicated to the
government and they re being dis-
cussed, but we have a line in the
sand when it comes to refoulement
or expulsion of refugees," he said.
"That is a line we re absolutely
mandated to try to protect the best
place like Malaysia, we have no con-
trol over law enforcement officials."
Malaysia, which is not a signatory
to the Refugee Convention, says it
was acting on reliable information,
provided by intelligence services,
including that of the US.
"The UN, when they gave them
the [refugee] card, they didn t have
the information," Deputy Home
Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar
said. "Some of this information,
especially intelligence information
is not widely known to a lot of peo-
Although Sri Lanka s civil war
ended more than five years ago, in
a final bloody battle on a small spit
of land on the island s northeastern
coast, communal relations remain
strained. Soldiers continue to patrol
the former war zone, where most
Tamils live, and the government has
resisted United Nations efforts to
investigate allegations of war crimes
committed by both sides in the clos-
ing months of the conflict.
Mala said she was told her request
for refugee status had been rejected
because of details she added in her
interview that were not in her orig-
inal application---details of sexual
abuse by Sri Lankan soldiers.
"I didn t feel comfortable before
talking about what happened to me,"
she said, alluding to the abuse she
"But after counselling I felt I
'We can't go back'
Not surprisingly, despite the dif-
ficulties of their life in Malaysia,
many Tamils decide to stay even after
they have been rejected as refugees.
Kris and his wife, they were also
too fearful of retribution to use their
real names, are living in hiding, ter-
rified they will be deported.
They pray at a nearby Hindu tem-
ple that they won t be forced to
return to the country they fled from
in 2010, after government agents
accused them of working for the
"When they told us our application
had been rejected our hearts broke,"
Kris said, trying to control his emo-
"We feared for our lives and that s
why we fled to Malaysia. We can t
go back. If we do, we will be going
back to die. It will all be over. Our
lives will be over." (Al Jazeera)
Rough journey for refugees in Malaysia
Tamils hold placards and banners during a demonstration in Kuala Lumpur.
Young asylum seekers in detention in Malaysia.
Malaysia won't give special treatment given to asylum seekers sent there.
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