UNHCR Cancels Chin Refugee Protections: Will it Fuel Human Trafficking?

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Human Trafficking

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that it would end refugee protections for the ethnic Chin in Malaysia starting this month, but several NGOs say that the move may increase human trafficking and human smuggling.

The Chin are an ethnic minority from western Myanmar, the majority of whom are Christians who have been abused by the military and persecuted because of their religion. Many seek refuge in Malaysia before being resettled in countries like the United States and Australia.

UNHCR announced its decision on June 13 after finding that their homeland is safe for return. It follows that Chin refugees can only extend their refugee status until Dec 31, 2019.

However, Chin community leaders in Malaysia claim that there is no formal repatriation procedure in place to ensure that those without documents are able to return and live in Myanmar safely. Recent arrests of undocumented ethnic Chin returning to Myanmar have sparked the fears.

The Star reports:

With no safe way to return, Glorene A. Das from human rights NGO Tenaganita said there is a possibility that those who have lost their refugee status will then rely on irregular methods to return home.

“What if they’re sold into forced labour somewhere along the route between Malaysia to the border, and to the Chin state?”

“UNHCR should have policies to monitor this process,” she proposed.

The Chin community is calling for a review of the cessation policy, claiming that the Chin state is still unsafe.

“Civilians are restricted from making a livelihood, and there is still conflict and forced labour especially in the southern area of the Chin state,” said CHRO programme director Sang Hnin Lian.

“We call for UNHCR to suspend the confiscation of Chin refugee cards, and to make public all appraisals and studies on the Chin situation in Myanmar.”

Das added that “Smugglers and trafficking agents are always looking for a way to bring people in by deceit.”

“This will continue to happen if traffickers promise you can go back home without the need for documents.”

A spokesman for UNHCR said that it will continue meeting with the Chin community in Malaysia to explain the options available to them.

Still, for the estimated 30,140 Chin refugees registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia, the abrupt cancellation of their refugee protections is worrying.

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