Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Talk to us, not to hardline Hamzah, activists tell Saifuddin

Talk to us, not to hardline Hamzah, activists tell Saifuddin

Three activists say the previous home minister was hostile towards migrants and refugees. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Activists for migrant rights have urged home minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail to talk to them on migrant worker and refugee issues instead of to his predecessor, Hamzah Zainudin.

They alleged that Hamzah took a hardline stand against migrants and refugees when he was in charge.

Last Saturday, Saifuddin said he would seek tips from Hamzah on the workings of the ministry. He said he learnt a lot from Hamzah after replacing him as domestic trade and consumer affairs minister in 2018.

Three activists told FMT that Saifuddin, if he was trying to pick up pointers on migrant issues, should instead engage with civic groups that were working closely with migrant and refugee communities.

They said these groups, which include community-based organisations, had a better understanding of the needs and concerns of migrants and refugees.

Mahi Ramakrishnan of Beyond Borders said Saifuddin’s overture to Hamzah was worrying as the former home minister was “incredibly hostile” towards refugees and migrant workers.

“He encouraged immigration raids and treated refugees and migrants like criminals,” she said. “He wasn’t interested in progressive policies that would have protected the rights of refugees and migrant workers.”

Adrian Pereira of North South Initiative said it made little sense to seek advice from an administration which had “failed to manage” human trafficking in Malaysia, leaving the country stuck at the lowest tier in the US State Department’s annual human trafficking report.

He called for laws and policies for the management of foreign workers that would cover every stage of the migration cycle, from worker recruitment to work placement, repatriation and reintegration.

Alliance of Chin Refugees’ former chairman James Bawi Thang Bik also said the new minister should not seek tips from his predecessor.

“It is really surprising that he trusts Hamzah,” he said. “The new government should come up with new and better policies that overrule the old ones.”

He said it would be “terrible” if the home ministry were to “copy and paste” previous policies rather than have ones that would be more in line with international practices.

“I hope the minister will work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on refugee issues with respect and understanding since this relates to people’s lives,” he added.

Last October, Hamzah told the UNHCR office in Malaysia and human rights groups not to interfere with the government’s move to deport Myanmar refugees.

In the wake of a mass escape of Rohingya refugees from an immigration detention centre in Kedah in April, Hamzah said they should return to their home country if they were unhappy with the way they were treated in Malaysia.

He also courted criticism in June when he downplayed reports of deaths in immigration centres by saying people should not be too quick to point fingers at the authorities since “sometimes people die even while walking”.

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