VZCZCXRO1784 PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM DE RUEHKL #1660/01 2490018 ZNY CCCCC ZZH P 060018Z SEP 06 FM AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7478 INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
1. (C) Summary: Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees
and Migration Ellen Sauerbrey used her August 24-26 mission
to Malaysia to stress our support for the UNHCR's activities,
commend the GOM for providing temporary residency to Acehnese
and Rohingya refugees from Burma, and urge the GOM to provide
greater education opportunities for the children of refugees.
She also expressed optimism that the USG will soon reach
consensus to solve the "material support" issue that has
halted our intended resettlement of thousands of Burmese Chin
refugees into the United States. A/S Sauerbrey's expression
of strong USG support for the UNHCR was timely, as the UNHCR
has recently come under criticism from police and immigration
officials. At her other stops in Kuala Lumpur, she discussed
refugee-related issues with the Indonesian ambassador to
Malaysia, and visited a primary school and convalescent home
for refugees that are partially USG-funded. End Summary.
A Home for the Rohingya?
2. (C) During her August 24 discussions with GOM officials
from the Internal Security and Foreign Affairs ministries,
A/S Sauerbrey praised the GOM's recent efforts to distribute
temporary residency documentation to the approximately 12,000
Burmese Rohingya refugees who currently reside in Malaysia.
Mohd Hatta bin Abdul Aziz, Deputy SecGen of the Ministry of
Internal Security, informed A/S Sauerbrey that the Home
Affairs Ministry began registering Rohingya refugees on
August 1 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
The refugees are to receive Malaysia's coveted "IMM 13"
documentation that allows its holders access to work, health
care and education. Malaysia has not signed or ratified the
1957 UN convention on refugees, and largely treats refugees
as illegal migrants. Hatta explained to A/S Sauerbrey that
GOM immigration enforcement officials have allowed
individuals from various refugee groups to remain in
Malaysia, subject only to their possession of UNHCR
documentation as "persons of concern."
3. (C) UNHCR Representative Volker Turk informed A/S
Sauerbrey that commencement of the Rohingyas' IMM 13
registration process was marred by widespread reports of
corruption among middlemen who allegedly extorted money from
Rohingya refugees, in return for access to registration
officials. The GOM suspended its registration process two
weeks after it began, and the Home Affairs ministry has
confidentially allowed the UNHCR to help restructure and
subsequently monitor the IMM 13 registration effort. Turk
told A/S Sauerbrey that the IMM 13 registration process will
likely resume by late September.
Refugee Acceptance, Malaysian Style
4. (C) The GOM's move to register Rohingya refugees follows a
similar effort to provide IMM 13 documentation to Acehnese
refugees; they constitute Malaysia's largest refugee group.
Turk informed A/S Sauerbrey that during 2005 and thus far in
2006, over 20,000 Acehnese refugees have been granted IMM
13s. He told us that the GOM may intend to use the IMM 13
documents as a "potential path toward permanent residency"
for Acehnese and Rohingya refugees, as both groups are
predominantly Muslim. In addition, he said, "They may help
ease the shortage of unskilled workers here." Indonesia's
Ambassador to Malaysia, Rusdihardjo, told A/S Sauerbrey that
most of the Acehnese refugees in Malaysia "want to stay here
permanently, because there are more jobs and economic
opportunities here." He also noted that the culture of
Malaysia was similar to that of Aceh province, thereby easing
their integration into Malaysian
5. (C) Turk told A/Sauerbrey that Malaysia's other major
refugee group, the approximately 13,000 - 15,000 Burmese
Chins (8,000 of whom are registered with the UNHCR as
refugees), will likely never receive IMM 13s. According to
Turk, they are predominantly Christian and have been
tolerated thus far by the GOM "largely because Western
nations have agreed to resettle them."
6. (C) A/S Sauerbrey expressed her concern to Hatta regarding
the GOM demand for reimbursement from IMM 13 holders for all
education expenses of their children. This has precluded
virtually all refugee children from attending school here, as
their parents are unable to afford the GOM-required payments.
In response to A/S Sauerbrey's questions regarding the lack
of education opportunities given to refugee children by the
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GOM, Mohd Hatta stated, "Their (the refugees) status here is
temporary. Our schools are already overburdened and if we
put them into our local schools, we'll make things worse."
He said the GOM currently provided only "religion classes"
gratis to Muslim refugees' children. A/S Sauerbrey expressed
her hope that the GOM would do everything in its power to
ensure adequate education opportunities for all refugee
children living in Malaysia, even if they may only reside
7. (C) In response to questions posed to A/S Sauerbrey about
possible resettlement of Burmese Chin refugees from Malaysia
to the United States, she explained that the USG first
required a waiver of the "material support" provisions
established under U.S. law. These provisions were designed
to prevent immigration into the U.S. by persons deemed to
have provided "material support" to terrorist organizations.
A/S Sauerbrey commented that the USG is committed to
resolving the material support issue with regard to the
Chins, some of whom provided varying degrees of support to
rebel groups within Burma before coming to Malaysia. She
told GOM officials, the United States hopes to take several
thousand Chin refugees per year from Malaysia, and expressed
optimism the Chin's material support problem could be
resolved in the next few months.
8. (C) Both Hatta and Ahmad Izlan Idris, Undersecretary of
Multilateral Affairs in the MFA, agreed
with A/S Sauerbrey's statement that "Burma must be pressured
to improve the living conditions of its people." Hatta said,
"I've been there and seen horrible conditions." Idris
commented, "We need to look at the core factors driving
foreigners from their homes to come to Malaysia."
The UNHCR Becomes a Lightning Rod
9. (C) The UNHCR has recently come under pressure by the GOM.
Turk told A/S Sauerbrey that he was "summoned" on August 2
to the MFA at the behest of Deputy Prime Minister Najib. He
was told that senior police and immigration officials here
view the UNHCR as a "major irritant." They question the
UNHCR's continued protection of individuals deemed to be
illegal migrants under Malaysian law. Turk told A/S
Sauerbrey that the GOM fears the UNHCR is "creating a pull
factor" by offering protection to such individuals.
Therefore, in addition to the other topics she raised in her
meetings with the internal security and foreign ministries,
A/S Sauerbrey clearly and explicitly expressed our strong
support for the activities of the UNHCR - both in Malaysia
and worldwide. She explained that the USG funds 25% of the
UNHCR's annual operating budget, and that we support the
UNHCR's unique capabilities and crucial roles that include:
protection of refugees temporarily residing in many
countries; facilitating permanent resettlement of refugees
into welcoming third countries; and aiding governments'
understanding of the underlying causes that drive flows of
distressed populations across borders.
10. (C) COMMENT: A/S Sauerbrey's visit to Malaysia enabled us
to clearly explain the status of the material support issue
that has impeded our resettlement of Burmese Chin refugees,
as well as convey our strong desire for the GOM to both
support the UNHCR's activities in Malaysia and provide public
education free of charge for refugee children. Now that the
GOM has offered the first step toward integration of the
Muslim groups that comprise the bulk of its refugees,
Malaysia has apparently become less willing to accommodate
other, non-Muslim groups such as the Chins. It is therefore
probably no coincidence that the UNHCR Representative was
summoned to the MFA the day after the GOM began registering
its last large group of Muslim refugees (i.e. the Rohingya).
While the relationship between the GOM and UNHCR has become
chilled in recent weeks, we believe the GOM is unlikely to
significantly change its policies regarding the UNHCR in the
near term. The GOM would face unwanted international
opprobrium, for example, if it ceased to accept UNHCR
documentation for Christian Chin refugees, while
simultaneously granting temporary residence permits to Muslim
Acehnese and Rohingya refugees. In addition, cooperation
with the UNHCR here allows the GOM to occupy a comfortable
middle ground between ratifying the UN convention on refugees
and simply punishing and deporting all refugees regardless of
UNHCR status. The UNHCR has also proven itself useful to the
GOM on issues such as the 131 Thai refugees who crossed into
Malaysia during August 2005 (reftel), as well as its latest
role in restructuring and monitoring the IMM 13 registration
process for the Rohingya.
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11. (U) A/S Sauerbrey has cleared this cable.