Rina Harun says engagement ongoing over UN refugees but mum about evictions

Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun said several ministries were looking into refugee issues, but failed to elaborate. — Picture by Farhan Najib
Datuk Seri Rina Mohd Harun said several ministries were looking into refugee issues, but failed to elaborate. — Picture by Farhan Najib

KUALA LUMPUR, July 15 — The women, family and community development minister told Parliament today several ministries were examining refugee issues when asked about their eviction by local landlords amid an immigration crackdown, but did not elaborate.

Datuk Seri Rina Harun said this when responding to Hannah Yeoh (PH-Segambut) who asked if the government has engaged the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) over reports that documented refugees were evicted by landlords after the ongoing efforts against undocumented migrants in Malaysia.

“On the refugee issues, the ministry has worked together with the Home Ministry, not just now but during the movement control order (MCO), because when it comes to foreigners we need to obtain their views and opinion not just the Home Ministry but the Foreign Ministry as well.

“This will be looked into from time to time. Most importantly, we will ensure the safety of the children,” Rina told the Dewan Rakyat today.

This prompted former women, family and community development deputy minister Yeoh to rise and complain to Deputy Speaker Datuk Mohd Rashid Hasnon that Rina did not specifically answer her question about the evictions and the UNHCR.

“Tuan Speaker, my question has not been answered. I wanted to ask what is the plan now because they have been evicted and will contribute to the issue of homelessness; the numbers will rise if the government is still in discussion but the local authorities have issued the eviction order,” Yeoh said.

When she pressed for a definite answer on whether the minister or ministry was aware of the matter, Mohd Rashid said this was not a debate and that the minister’s answer should be accepted at face value.

He then ordered the House to move to the next question in the Order Paper.

On July 11, Mahi Ramakhrisnan, who founded the Beyond Borders non-governmental organisation that has been helping refugees here, told Malay Mail her outfit was assisting 100 refugees who were suddenly told by their landlords to vacate their rented home in the city centre, following a warning from the Immigration Department.

Another refugee rights advocate, Hanif Mahfa, asserted that property owners were being forced to evict their refugee tenants as Malaysian law did not distinguish between refugees and other undocumented migrants.

Federal Territories Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa later expressed surprise over the revelation and said as those officially recognised by the UNHCR should be allowed to rent and not be evicted.

Malay Mail sighted a Federal Territories’ Immigration Department notice that said it had received reports of undocumented migrants in several areas and would take action against owners who rent out their properties to these groups.

It cited Section 55E of the Immigration Act 1959/63 (amendment 2002) that made it an offence to allow “illegal immigrants” into their premises.

First offenders may be fined between RM5,000 and RM30,000, imprisoned up to 12 months, or both, while subsequent offenders face a fine of between RM10,000 and RM60,000, up to two years’ imprisonment, or both.

Property owners are also liable for each “illegal immigrant found at the premises”.

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