They cannot legally work, nor send their children to school. They are at risk of exploitation, abuse – even caning. They are the 150,000 asylum seekers and refugees who have fled their homelands for Malaysia. 101 East investigates whether authorities and the UN are doing enough to protect the world’s most vulnerable.
Her newborn baby was in intensive care, the pain of her delivery still achingly raw. But things were about to get a lot worse for Khei Chi Soh, a refugee from Myanmar.
One day after her daughter was born, immigration officers arrived at her bedside at a Kuala Lumpur hospital.
They told her she could see her baby one last time. Then they took the distraught young woman to a detention centre for illegal migrants. For a month, she did not know whether her daughter had lived or died.
The Malaysian immigration police see us as just refugees, not humans.
Khei is one of at least 150,000 asylum seekers and refugees who have fled their homelands for Malaysia. But instead of finding sanctuary, all too often what awaits them is abuse and exploitation – even at the hands of authorities.
Pursued by a government intent on stemming the influx of migrants, refugees say the UN’s refugee agency is also failing them.
Malaysia has refused to sign the UN Convention on Refugees, meaning that those who come here must register with the UNHCR and have their claims of asylum certified before they can join long waiting lists to move to another country.
Often it can take a decade. They live in fear of the police, who they say regularly demand money in exchange for not hauling them off to detention centres notorious for abuse.
Forbidden from working or sending their children to school, it is a fragile existence for many as they struggle to survive in society’s shadows.
In this extensive investigation, complete with undercover filming, 101 East exposes the hidden, fear-filled world refugees inhabit in Malaysia and asks, who is going to help them?
What do you make of Malaysia’s treatment of #refugees? Join the conversation at @AJ101East