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1-15 December 2001

Refugee policies based on fear

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers criticized governments’ treatment of the world’s 22 million refugees.  He told the 72 ministers during a refugee conference that some leaders based their refugee policies on fear and mistrust and instead of cooperating to share out the burden.  UN Secretary General Kofi Annan emphasized that refugees are not criminals, instead they are victims of autocratic or abusive regimes, conflict and criminal smuggling rings.  On the other hand, Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock questioned the international protection that has since evolved from the 1951 Refugee Convention and suggested that the mechanism set up by states was being subverted and failing refugees.  Other West European ministers who complained of the growing asylum burden were British Home Secretary David Blunkett, German Foreign Minister Joshka Fischer and French Cooperation Minister Charles Josselin. 

Source:  AFP, “Countries’ handling of refugee burden attacked," South China Morning Post, 13 December 2001



New visa rule

Although foreigners in Beijing welcome new government rules to allow overseas experts and business people to gain permanent residency, many are still confused about the rules.  Starting in 2003, senior foreign managers, technicians and big investors can receive permanent residency.  The change may have been ushered by the country’s entry to the World Trade Organization.  Some 90 foreigners currently have permanent residence, including citizenship.  There is confusion on who could qualify since managers and technicians could only mean office bosses and skilled workers or almost any professional sent from overseas work to China. 

Source:  “New visa rules bring confusion," South China Morning Post, 11 December 2001

Hong Kong

Protest vs. wage cut

Several thousand domestic helpers from the Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand marched to the government’s headquarters to protest the move to cut their wages.  These four countries are the source of 98 (or 99) percent of the 233,110 foreign domestic helpers working in SAR as of October.  There is a proposal to cut foreign domestic helpers’ minimum monthly wage of HK$3,670 by 15 to 20 percent from next year.  It was also reported that the Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers’ Association proposed a 15 to 20 percent pay cut. 

The affected countries of origin formally appealed to the SAR government not to cut the minimum wage of foreign domestic helpers.  The consuls-general of the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Nepal sent a letter to Secretary for Education and Manpower Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun.  The letter pointed out that the proposed cut is neither an appropriate measure nor an effective solution to address current economic difficulties. Also, SAR reduced the wage level in 1999 and it was not reversed despite SAR’s outstanding economic performance in the past two years. 

Extradition sought for smuggler

The US government is seeking to extradite Leung Lok-sing to face people smuggling charges involving 18 mainlanders in Seattle.  He has been on the wanted list by US authorities since 6 April but was only arrested recently in Kowloon.  US prosecutors want to put him on trial for the following: conspiracy to transport illegal aliens to the US resulting in death, conspiracy to bring illegal aliens to the US at a non-designated port of entry, and conspiracy to bring illegal aliens to the US for financial gain. 

On 10 January 2001, immigration officials found 18 Fujianese stowaways, three of them dead, crammed in a cargo container in Seattle.  They had been in the container for 15 days.  Each stowaway paid US$38,000 to the smugglers upon arrival.

School places for abode seekers

The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong offered school places to the 100 mainland children who were denied the right to go to school by the government while waiting for the outcome of their abode applications.  Joseph Zen ZE-kuin, coadjutor of the diocese said he would try to arrange for them to study in some of the 300 kindergartens, primary and secondary schools run by Catholic religious congregations and the diocese. 

Some 30 mainland children staged a protest outside the Immigration Tower in Wan Chai urging Director of Immigration Ambose Lee Siu-kwong to lift the ban on education for children abode seekers. There are 170 mainland children granted temporary stay in the territory pending a final decision on their cases.  Democratic Party legislator Szeto Wah vowed to help the children get admitted to three schools where he serves as board chair. 

Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said that if the children abode seekers wanted to go to school, they should go home to study.  They would soon be deported so schooling them makes no sense.  She added that the government would be sending the wrong message if it asks them to leave but allows them to remain in the territory to go to school. 

Fourteen children abode seekers applied to three schools that announced that they would defy the education ban while others tried applying at schools run by the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong.  Earlier, Secretary Ip warned that it would encourage snakeheads to smuggle in more children.  Six Christian organizations wrote an open letter urging Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa to lift the ban.  Alan Leong Kha-kit, chair of the Bar association, said that schools that admitted mainland children cannot be prosecuted.  Although the government has no legal obligation to provide them education, officials should observe a duty recognized worldwide, such as the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention of the Rights of the Child.     

Case against abode seekers

Prosecutors rested their murder-arson case against seven abode seekers after it was revealed that 15 other claimants at the scene had been charged with manslaughter.  There were 23 abode seekers in Room 1301 of the Immigration Tower on 2 August last year when a fire broke out that eventually claimed the lives of senior immigration officer Leung Kam-kwong and abode seeker Lam Siu-sing.  Prosecutors alleged that paint thinner was splashed around the room before the fire broke out as immigration officers moved to evict the abode seekers.         

Sources:  AFP, “Maids protest wage cut plan in Hong Kong," The Star, 3 December 2001;  Stella Lee, “School places offered to 100 children awaiting abode verdict," South China Morning Post, 7 December 2001;  Stella Lee, “Tears as schools offer places to abode children," South China Morning Post, 11 December 2001;  Patrick Poon, “US accuses SAR man of smuggling people," South China Morning Post, 11 December 2001;  Raissa Robles and Mary Ann Benitez, “Nations unite in appeal on maids’ pay," South China Morning Post, 11 December 2001;  AP, “Ip: mainland children should go to Chinese schools," 11 December 2001;  Angel Lau, “15 others on death charge, jury told," South China Morning Post, 12 December 2001;  Stella Lee, “Abode case children sign up for schools," South China Morning Post, 12 December 2001;  AP, “Don’t cut salaries of maids," The Star, 12 December 2001;  Stella Lee, “No laws against classes for abode children" Bar chief," South China Morning Post, 13 December 2001


Revised rules on foreign workers

The government plans to allow Korean businesses to employ more foreign workers. It will also design measures to cope with the growing number of irregular migrant workers.  The proposal calls for the government to toughen the screening of foreign job seekers entering the country and to strengthen the government’s management of foreign employees.  Other plans are to allow the service sector to hire foreign workers and to allow foreigners to work for two years after completing training programs, instead of one year under the current system.  According to the Justice Ministry, there were 310,905 migrant workers as of the end of June; 215,708 of them are staying in the country illegally.             

Promoting workplace safety

The Ministry of Labor will strengthen its job-related safety for migrant workers starting January to better protect foreign workers from industrial accidents.  The ministry plans to offer safety education and health guidance in the workers’ own language. The program will be offered at provincial labor offices and facilities for migrant workers.  The government will produce and provide lectures, promotional videos, posters and guidebooks in eight languages of dominant nationalities among migrant workers. The ministry would also seek cooperation from churches and civic groups to ensure that foreign workers and firms employing them receive safety and health training.  The plan is based on the ministry’s recent survey showing a steady rise in the number of reported industrial accidents involving foreign workers, from 755 in 1998 to 1,197 last year.  It estimated that about 310,900 foreign workers are employed at 8,939 workplaces in the country as of July this year; about 215,800 of them are staying illegally. From January 1998 to August 2001, 3,585 were reported to have been injured due to a variety of reasons. 

Revisions in immigration law

Foreigners will be able to receive legal documents from local city, county and ward offices as well as immigration offices starting March next year. This is in line with revisions in the immigration law, which was passed in the National Assembly.  Presently, foreigners can only obtain certificates of alien registration at immigration offices across the country and the Hwaseong Immigration Processing Center. 

Other revisions include penalizing those who arrange, or assist in arranging, the illegal entry and exit of foreigners, not providing visas and boarding tickets to foreigners who attempt illegal entry and exit, and authorizing immigration officials to seize documents from a deported person. The period for foreigners to seek refugee status was extended from the current 60 days to one year after entering the country. 

New visa rules to prevent irregular migration workers

The government is considering printing names of foreign arrivals for the World Cup soccer finals on their tickets to prevent irregular migrant workers from entering the country under the guise of being soccer fans.  Meanwhile the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Trade (MFAT) is seeking to introduce a new group visa issuance system to hold related travel agencies responsible in case tourists decide to stay illegally.  The travel agencies would be penalized if the people they sell tickets to overstay.  On the other hand, the government is trying to ease visa regulations for genuine Chinese soccer fans by introducing a simplified procedure in which tourists will receive stamps in their passports instead of the current stickers. 

Improving handling of asylum seekers urged

UNHCR mission chief in Seoul, James Kovar, said that the country’s method of handling foreign asylum seekers and refugees is improving but there is room for improvement.  He noted that the government is more available and more interested in consulting with the UNHCR about specific cases.  However, due to failure to get proper information on necessary procedures, many asylum seekers arriving in the country miss their chance of obtaining refugee status. Since 1994, Korea has received 117 applications from refugee seekers, but only one has been accepted.  The Ministry of Justice said that 41 cases have already been rejected, while 56 are under review. 

Revision to the Overseas Koreans bill

Rep. Song Sok-chan of the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) and 22 other lawmakers introduced a bill to revise the law concerning the status of overseas Koreans.  The bill is intended to virtually grant dual nationality to overseas Koreans, especially to the 2.55 million ethnic Koreans in Russia and China.  Under the bill, they would be accorded the same status in visits, employment and business activities as ethnic Koreans from Japan and the US.  There are concerns that if enacted, the bill would usher the influx of Korean-Chinese to Korea. Also, China has already opposed the bill on the grounds that it would virtually give Korean-Chinese dual citizenship.

Visa-free entry to US urged

The Korea Trade International Association (KITA) urged the US to provide Koreans with visa-free entry to the US.  This was raised in a meeting between KITA members and US Ambassador Thomas Hubbard. Under the visa waiver program, Korean citizens could travel to the US for tourism or business for 90 day or less without obtaining a visa.  Hubbard said that the country has a five percent refusal rate, which disqualifies it from the program.  However, according to the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea (AmCham), there is a flaw in the current laws’ qualification criteria, pointing out that the two-minute interview is not enough to determine the applicant’s intent to return.  The country’s economic standing as the world’s 11th largest economy and the US’ seventh largest trading partner are important factors as well.

Sources:  Seo Soo-min, “Ticket holders to be identified to prevent illegal migrant workers," Korea Times, 2 December 2001; Seo Jee-yeon, “Traders call for visa-free entry to US," Korea Times, 7 December 2001; Kim Ji-ho, “Seoul needs to improve handling of asylum seekers: U.N official," Korea Herald, 8 December 2001; Yonhap, “Bill on O’seas Koreans introduced," Korea Times, 9 December 2001; Kim Min-hee, “Foreigners to receive documents at local offices," Korea Herald, 10 December 2001; Heo Yun-seon, “Gov’t to promote job-related safety for migrant workers," Korea Times, 11 December 2001;  Kim Min-hee, “Gov’t taking measures to improve workplace safety," Korea Herald, 12 December 2001;  Kim Min-hee, “Government overhauling employment policy on foreign workers, trainees," Korea Herald, 14 December 2001 


Irregular migrants to be deported

The Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau said that 89 Chinese nationals who posed as family members of war-displaced Japanese would be deported soon. Immigration officials said that some members of the group had been detained. Most of them came from Heilongjiang Province in northeast China.  Most of them lived in Tokyo and Nagano Prefecture. The group admitted paying a mediator in China to produce a document certifying that they are family members of Japanese left in China around the end of World War II.  Some said that the mediator later threatened to reveal their true status to Japanese authorities if they refuse to pay. One of the couples paid 50,000 yen to 120,000 yen a month to keep the mediator quiet. 

Students are irregular migrants

The Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau raided Sakata Junior College’s Tokyo branch in Chiyoda-ku for allegedly providing a haven for Chinese students working illegally in Tokyo.  It was reported that a number of students have gone missing while several students registered in the campus have been deported for working illegally in Tokyo’s sex shops. 

In a related development, immigration officials refused entry to some 1,200 Chinese students who have enrolled in two Fukuoka vocational colleges run by the same group as Sakata Junior College.  The Fukuoka Regional Immigration Bureau said the visa applications for 1,196 students were turned down because the schools were not in a position to provide educational services and they violate the 1990 Education Ministry directive that bans educational institutions from admitting more than 50 percent of students from overseas.  The two schools only have 13 Japanese students.     

Some 200 Chinese students registered for classes at the Tokyo campus of Sakata Junior College are being urged to return to Sakata by 7 January or face severe penalties.  Officials of the college said they would mail notices to the students living in Tokyo and its vicinities asking them to return to Sakata or face penalties such as expulsion.   They would also ask the students to live in Sakata and sign a contract to ensure that they attend classes.  They revealed that aside from the 200 Chinese students reported missing, there were 37 others who had also been reported missing.  The college has 339 Chinese students.

Cases of human smuggling?

The Japanese Coast Guard investigated a possible case of people smuggling following the collision of a Cambodian freighter with a Japanese freighter.  The collision occurred off the coast of Wakayama Prefecture.  The Cambodian ship’s 12 crewmembers and 29 passengers, all Chinese from Fujian, were rescued and were questioned under suspicion of trying to enter the country illegally.  The passengers were not in the ship’s register. 

Police arrested 22 Chinese aboard a cargo ship at Osaka port in western Japan on suspicion of illegal entry.  The 17 men and five women were arrested for alleged violation of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law.  They claimed they came from Fujian.  They were found hiding in a container of a Panamanian-registered vessel, which arrived in Osaka from Shanghai.                        

Visa period of Koreans may be extended

The government is considering extending its visa stay period for Koreans to 90 days from the current 15.  The Korean government has been asking Japan to allow South Koreans to stay in the country without visas as Japanese do in Korea.  Officials of both countries met in November and are set to meet again to discuss the matter.  The government acknowledges the need to offer visa-free stay to South Koreans as they are set to co-host the World Cup football finals. 

Activist granted refugee status

Zhao Nan, a Chinese democracy activist, has been granted refugee status 11 years after he applied for refugee status.  He was one of the leading Chinese activists based in Japan at the time of Tiananmen massacre in 1989.  He filed his first application for refugee status in Osaka in 1990, fearing persecution if he returned to China.  The application was immediately denied due to the 60-day rule.  He later reapplied for refugee status in February 1996 and in December 1997. 

Decision on Afghans appealed

Lawyers for four Afghan refugee applicants filed two cases with the Tokyo District Court seeking to suspend their detention and overturn a deportation order against them.  Kensuke Ohnuki, lead lawyer of the case, said that issuing a deportation order and detaining refugees are against the UN refugee recognition convention and against humanity.  They have been held in custody of the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau since their arrest on 3 October, along with five other Afghan men who also claimed refugee status.  They belong to minority ethnic groups persecuted by the Taliban militia.

Sources:  “89 illegal Chinese to be deported," Japan Times, 4 December 2001;  “Chinese activist expresses delight at refugee status," Japan Times, 8 December 2001; Shim Jae-yun, “Japan considers visa period for Koreans," Korea Times, 9 December 2001; AFP, “Japan suspects people-smuggling after freighter collision," 10 December 2001; AFP, “22 Chinese arrested in western Japan," 11 December 2001; Kyodo, “Sunk ship produces illegal entrants," Japan Times, 11 December 2001; AFP, “Lawyers for Afghan refugee applicants appeal deportation decision," 12 December 2001;  Mainichi Shimbun, “School raided over illegal Chinese students," 12 December 2001;  Kyodo News Service, “200 Chinese students urged to return to Sakata or face penalty," 13 December 2001;  “Four Afghans denied refugee status take case to court," Japan Times, 13 December 2001


Mainland immigration quota up

The Cabinet Council announced that the quota of mainland immigrants would be more than doubled beginning next year to cut the waiting period of thousands of mainland spouses for family reunion.  The government decided to expand the yearly quota from the current 3,600 to 9,500 by classifying the migrants under four categories.  The categories include: spouses of Taiwan people who got married before 31 December 1949; mainland spouses who got married on or after 1 January 1950 and who have been married for at least two years or had children at the time of application; spouses who have been waiting for immigration quotas for more than four years and who have been legally staying in Taiwan for a total of more than two years; and those who move to Taiwan due to political, economic, social, educational, technological or cultural reasons.  The projected number of immigrants for 2002 is about 9,500, and 9,300 for 2003, and about 11,000 for 2004.          

Emigration agency needed

Wu Hsin-hsiang, Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission vice minister, called on the government to set up an emigration agency immediately to provide information and services to emigrants from Taiwan.  He said Taiwanese often do not make enough preparations before they emigrate and they lack information on the countries they will be going to.  Meanwhile, Professor Wu Ying-ming of the National Sun Yat-sen University said that in the past, Taiwanese emigrants have not actively participated nor contributed to their adopted communities.  He urged overseas Chinese and Taiwan business people to actively participate in their new communities. 

Aid for Afghan refugees

The Government Information Office (GIO) announced that the government would send some 6,500 bags of relief goods for Afghans with the assistance of an Iranian charitable organization.  The office said that volunteers from the Buddhist Tzu Chi Compassionate Relief Foundation would join the relief operation once the materials reach Iran.  The relief materials, which include food, tents, winter clothing, blankets, medicine and medical equipments, have been provided by non-government organizations, the Tzu Chi foundation and three other civilian groups.  The aid will be delivered to some 6,500 Afghan families in refugee camps. 

Sources:  CNA, “Gov’t needs to set up emigration agency: o’seas Chinese commission," 6 December 2001; CNA, “Taiwan to send relief materials for Afghan refugees," 10 December 2001;  “Mainland immigration quota to double," China Post, 13 December 2001



Children die in refugee camp

Three more children under eight years old died of cold in the Mile 46 camp for Afghan refugees on the border with Iran as a result of poor conditions.  Mohammed Nuri, spokesperson of the UNHCR in Iran, said the deaths brought the total at Mile 46 to six this month.  The Iranian Red Crescent has set up two camps near the Afghan border, sheltering some 10,000 refugees.  However, some 2,400 were unable to enter due to lack of space, causing concerns among the NGOs.  The Red Crescent said it has sent 17 truckloads of food, blankets and medical equipment to the Afghan province of Nimruz, where the camps are located. 

Source:  AFP, “Children die of cold in Afghan refugee camp," Khaleej Times, 11 December 2001


Halt on non-Jew immigration

Interior Minister Eli Yishai hopes to close loopholes that allow the increasing number of non-Jews to immigrate.  According to official figures by the Central Bureau of Statistics, 51 percent of new immigrants last year were not Jewish, compared to only four percent in 1990.  He expects to gather support to change the Law of Return, which allows the child or grandchild of a single Jewish parent to immigrate even if they are not considered Jewish by the Halacha.  He said he fears that the Jews will become a minority in their own country if an effort is not made to solve the problem. 

Aid for Ethiopian Jews

The Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County is supporting a program to help 5,000 Ethiopian immigrants assimilate in Ramla, a city southeast of Tel Aviv.  Recently, Ramla Mayor Yoel Lavi visited Florida to update local leaders and to ask for support. A US$5,000 annual grant from the organization supports a program serving Ethiopian children. Three new programs have been established - a teacher training program to prepare Ethiopian children to move from elementary to junior high school; helping them prepare to take college admission tests; and an outreach program for adolescents to keep them out of trouble.   

Sources: Tovah Lazaroff, “Yishai targets ‘loopholes’ in Law of Return," Jerusalem Post, 12 December 2001; Ron Hayes, “Israeli appeals for money to assist Ethiopian immigrants," Palm Beach Post, 13 December 2001


No extension for amnesty program

The Jordanian Ministry of Labor announced that there would be no extension when the amnesty program for foreign workers ends this December. Labor Secretary Muhammad Ali Diab said the ministry is working to correct the conditions of workers, warning to take legal measures against those who fail to do so.  He urged all companies in Jordan not to hide irregular workers; otherwise the ministry will take measures, including deporting irregular foreign workers. 

Source:  Arabic News, “Foreign labor force in Jordan," 4 December 2001


Visa eased for tourists

The Dubai Naturalization and Residency Department is issuing visit visas more quickly at this time of the year to make it easier for tourists to come for the Eid and Christmas holidays.  Colonel Saeed Mattar bin Bleilah, Director General of the Department, said that a large number of foreign workers of different nationalities and religions bring their families to visit the UAE during this time of the year to celebrate different events, such as Dubai the City that Cares, Ramadan, Eid Al Fitr holiday, Christmas, New Year, and the Dubai Shopping Festival.  The number of visitors coming to the country is much higher than last year, noting an increase in the number of visitors from Europe, US, Canada and Australia. 

Release of Filipino seafarers

The Shariah Court of First Instance is set to order the immediate release of 30 Filipino seafarers detained for allegedly not repaying their loans and defrauding banks in the UAE totaling US$1.537 million. The court sentenced the seafarers, all employees of the Gulf Agency Company (GAC) Marine, to four months in jail together with 16 Indian nationals involved in the case.  The court ruled that the seafarers have in effect served their sentence considering that they have been detained at the Al Wathaba Central Prison since January. 

Sources:  “UAE court set to order release of 30 Filipinos," Business World, 3 December 2001; Bassma Al Jandaly, “Dubai eases visit visas for tourists," Gulf News, 12 December 2001



Ratification of UN convention on migrants’ rights urged

Panelists at a discussion organized by the Welfare Association of repatriated Bangladeshi Employees (WARBE) noted the growing number of Bangladeshis working abroad facing hardships and appealed to the government to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families.  Bangladesh signed the convention in 1998 but has not yet ratified it. According to Law Commission Member Justice Naimuddin Ahmed, he suspected that some interest groups and international rackets working against migrants’ interests were blocking its ratification.  Dr. CR Abrar, a specialist on migration issues, deplored the government’s indifference to the ratification of the convention, saying its enforcement would ensure the protection of rights of Bangladeshis working abroad. 

Migration of Hindu minority

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpajee raised the issue of attacks against the Hindu minority in Bangladesh and asked the Bangladeshi government to stop the migration of Hindus to India.  He said the faith of the minorities in the government has been shaken and action must be taken against those responsible for the attacks. Otherwise many minorities will migrate to India.  Bangladeshi Finance Minister Saifur Rahman responded that his government has set up a high-powered committee to probe the incidents and vowed that its reports would be made public.        

Sources:  Pallab Bhatcharya, “Stop migration of Hindus to India: Vajpayee," Daily Star, 5 December 2001;  “Ratify UN convention on migrants’ rights," Daily Star, 11 December 2001

India (see also Bangladesh)

Indian diasporas

The South Asian studies program of the National University of Singapore has organized a two-day workshop to discuss the best ways of collating and disseminating materials about the Indian diasporas.  The workshop hoped to come up with a book that charts the history of migration from India and the impact that overseas Indians have on their host nations.  The book would document the economic, cultural and social contributions Indians have made.   The endeavor was supported by the Singapore chapter of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (Gopio).

Source: “Book on Indian migration in the pipeline," Straits Times, 8 December 2001


UNHCR on “forced relocation"

UNHCR denied charges of forcible relocation of Afghan refugees alleged by the Human Rights Watch (HRW).  UNHCR spokesperson Maki Shinohara said that HRW’s contention that the refugees were forcibly shifted to Kotkai was not true.  She even claimed that some 400 to 500 refugees were, in fact, now happy about the temporary halt in relocation from Jalozai and added that the refugees have a choice. 

Citizenship for Afghans sought

A nine-member delegation of the International Development Committee of House of Commons (IDCHC) asked Pakistan to give citizenship to Afghans who had sought refuge in the country for 20 years.  The delegation said that majority of the Afghans in the country were not willing to be repatriated due to bad living conditions in their country of origin.  However, Federal Northern Areas, Kashmir Affairs and State and Frontier Regions Minister Abbas Sarfaraz Khan said the government has no intention of providing citizenship to the refugees.  He said the influx of Afghans increased the crime rate and incidents of terrorism. 

Non-Pakhtoon refugees to be moved

UNHCR and the Commissionerate for Afghan refugees (CAR) would start shifting the non-Pakhtoon Afghan refugees from Jallozai to a new camp at the Bassau area in Kurram agency.  Non-Pakhtoons comprise about 55 percent of the total 60,000 displaced Afghans living in the Jallozai makeshift camp.  Between 500 and 700 Afghan refugees would be moved everyday. The move was prompted by reports of resentment from certain areas of the province against displaced persons belonging to ethnic minorities, 

UNHCR denied reports of retaliation against non-Pakhtoon Afghan refugees in Malakand division and other parts of the Frontier Province.  UNHCR officials said that no single incident had been reported from any part of NWFP and Federally-Administered Tribal Areas.  The NWFP government also denied reports of harassment of non-Pakhtoon Afghans in Malakand division after the killing of Pakistani nationals in Kabul and northern Afghanistan.    

Afghans to be nabbed, put in camps

Pres. Pervez Musharraf approved the proposal to arrest Afghans living in cities and send them to refugee camps, as a new interim government in Pakistan would pave the way for their return to their home country.  There are about three million Afghans living in Pakistan; 1.2 million are in refugee camps.  Naeem Khan, senior official in the Refugee Ministry, promised that no refugees would be sent back until conditions stabilize. 

Discussion on refugee situation; appeal for help

Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan and a delegation of Refugees International called on the minister for Kana and Safron Abbas Sarfaraz Khan and discussed issues relating to Afghan refugees and displaced persons of Kashmir.  The minister briefed Her Majesty on the Afghan refugee situation, contingency plan for EDPs, the setting up of internally displaced persons’ camp and the government’s approach to these issues.  He also asked the Refugee International to support 17,000 internally displaced persons of Kashmir living in camps in AJK. 

Meanwhile, Federal Interior Minister Lt-Gen Moinuddin Haider appealed for more support from the international community in looking after the 3.1 million Afghan refugees in the country. Irene Khan of Amnesty International (AI) told the minister that her organization had seen improvement in Pakistan on the issue of human rights.        

Repatriated fishermen to arrive

According to the Fishermen Cooperative Society, 202 Pakistani fishermen released by India would arrive on 4 December.  The fishermen, with their 13 seized boats, left the Indian coastal town of Okha and are expected to arrive at Karachi harbor.  All detained Pakistani fishermen in India had been released, except for the five others who had been sentenced by an Indian court.  Also, 48 Indians, who were arrested in October, would be released. 

Sources:  “Citizenship for Afghan refugees urged," Dawn, 1 December 2001;  “202 Pakistani fishermen arrive today," Dawn, 4 December 2001;  “Non-Pakhtoon refugees’ shifting begins today," Dawn, 4 December 2001;  “No retaliation against non-Pakhtoon refugees: UNHCR," Dawn, 4 December 2001;  “Pakistani fishermen return home," Dawn, 6 December 2001; AP, “Afghans in Pakistan’s cities to be put into camps," Sydney Morning Herald, 7 December 2001; APP, “Queen Noor holds talks on Afghan refugee situation," Dawn, 8 December 2001;  “Refugees not being forcible relocated, says UNHCR," Dawn, 8 December 2001;  “Moin seeks world’s help for Afghan refugees," Dawn, 12 December 2001

Sri Lanka

Welfare program for migrant workers

According to a recent survey by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE), a record total of Rs.87, 697 million were remitted by approximately 853,000 Sri Lankan migrant workers last year. Since June 1995, migrant workers had remitted more than Rs.376 billion worth of foreign exchange.  Under the migrant workers welfare program, the following were accomplished: 292 persons were granted special bank loans between 1998 and 2001; since 1996, 12,000 schoolchildren received school equipment worth around Rs. 100 million; several health camps were conducted since 1995 amounting to Rs. lakh; between 1995 to October 2001, 29,591 migrants had been paid compensation worth around Rs. 398 million; construction of a hostel for migrant workers; benefits worth Rs. 125 million were given to families of 125 migrant workers who died abroad; and airlifting of 2,682 persons who faced hardships while serving during the last two years. 

Boatpeople found in Australia

Sixty-nine Sri Lankan asylum seekers were found off Cocos Island.  The boatpeople were found aboard the vessel with no sign of the crew, suggesting a second boat was used by the crew to avoid prosecution under Australia’s anti-people smuggling laws.  Air force planes are searching the area for the second boat.

Sources:  Ananda Kannangara, “Expatriates’ remittances top Rs.87.6 billion," Daily News, 1 December 2001;  Reuters, “Sri Lanka boat people found off Australia," Daily News, 11 December 2001


Child trafficking

The Mekong region has seen a rapid growth of child trafficking from poorer countries, such as Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Vietnam, into relatively wealthy Thailand for sex purposes over the past five years.  In the coming second world congress against commercial sexual exploitation in Yokohama, Japan, experts noted that a broader focus is needed.  According to Margie de Monchy, regional adviser for child protection of UNICEF East Asia and Pacific, child prostitution overshadows the issue of child labor and begging and those in very hazardous situations. 

Source:  Rafael D. Frankel, “Child trafficking takes new form in Southeast Asia," Christian Science Monitor, 12 December 2001


Migrant worker fined for overstaying

Anan Phorasa, a Thai national who pleaded guilty to overstaying for two years and eight months, was fined B$1,500 or six months jail in default by the Bandar Seri Begawan Magistrate’s Court.  He was arrested following raids by police on Syarikat Hj Abu Bakar bin Hj Halus dan Anak-Anak at Kg Bunut in Jalan Tutong.  He was found to have expired social visit pass and was later brought to the Bandar Seri Begawan police station for investigation. 

Source:  Liza Mohamad, “Thai man fined for overstaying," Borneo Bulletin, 12 December 2001


Conference on people smuggling

Foreign Minister Hasan Wirayuda announced that the country would host an international conference in February to coordinate response to increased people trafficking activity in the region.  He said the conference, which will be co-hosted with Australia, would be held in Bali.  It would involve countries from where the irregular migrants come, those used as transit points, the destination countries and international organizations concerned with the issue. 

Renewed attack vs. refugees

Some 50,000 mainly Christian refugees fleeing sectarian violence in Central Sulawesi could be attacked in the absence of military or police protection.  Father Jimmy reported of undetermined number of deaths, and thousands of mainly-Christian homes being destroyed allegedly done by well-organized, uniformed militia equipped with machine guns, rocket launchers and bulldozers.  He said residents and refugees were in danger of renewed attacks after extremists bombarded the villages of Betalemba, Patiwunga, Tangkura, Sanginora and Debua.  It was feared that the militia is nearing Tentena, where some 50,000 villagers from Betalemba, Patiwunga and Tangkura are taking refuge. 

Meanwhile, Manado Bishop Mgr. Josef Suwatan OSC called on the central government and security forces to restore law and order in Central Sulawesi.  He said civilian militias have killed local people and burned down thousands of houses and churches in five villages located between Poso and Tentena.  He claimed the violent campaign was aimed at destroying communities and culture in the area as the militia targeted people, homes, churches, mosques and school buildings. 

Aid for East Timorese refugees extended

The government will extend the provision of humanitarian assistance to more than 100,000 East Timorese refugees until the end of January 2001.  Maj. Gen. Willem T. da Costa, chief of the Udayana Military Command overseeing Bali, West and East Nusa Tenggara, said the government’s decision had been largely motivated by the lack of any clear signal from the refugees on whether they intended to return to East Timor or remain in the country. 

Previously, the government had announced it would stop its aid to the refugees at the end of this month in its effort to encourage them to decide whether they would stay in Indonesia or return home.  The government has provided the refugees with Rp1, 500 (US$0.15) and 400 grams of rice per person a day and has offered RP750, 000 per family if they decide to return home.

Mari Alkatiri, chief minister of East Timor, said most of the 60,000 East Timorese refugees still abroad are likely to return by the end of 2002.  He said they are returning at a rate of 800 to 1,000 a week.   

Migrant entry to be regulated

Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso wants to issue new regulations to limit incoming migrants, claiming they cause problems in the capital city.   He said some 250,000 people from outside Jakarta come and settle in the city every year; many stay illegally in land plots.  He added that with the current unemployment rate, their presence would surely cause many problems. 

Meanwhile, Java governors agreed to give priority to people from their own localities when filling job vacancies in their own province in order to control the high level of migration to major cities.  East Java governor R. Nuriana said the move was aimed at preventing people from remote areas in Java and Sumatra in migrating to major cities such as Jakarta, Bandung, Semarang, Yogyakarta and Surabaya.  He noted that more than 400,000 people from numerous provinces had migrated annually to the province, causing the reduction of job opportunities for local job seekers.         

Sources:  Ridwan Max Sijabat, “Poso refugees in grave danger as mobs threaten," Jakarta Post, 1 December 2001; AFP, “Indonesia to host conference on people smuggling in February," 6 December 2001; Yemris Fointuna, “Government to extend aid to refugees," Jakarta Post, 10 December 2001;  “Sutiyoso seeks to limit migrants," Jakarta Post, 10 December 2001; Yuli Tri Suwarni, “Java governors agree to limit migration," Jakarta Post, 12 December 2001; Reuters, “East Timor sees refugees returning," 13 December 2001


Foreign workers: still in demand

Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn said that despite the rise in retrenchments, the country is still dependent on foreign workers to fill up the 120,000 job vacancies available this year.  He said the vacancies created from January to November outnumber the 38,848 workers retrenched by 1,204 employers during the same period.  About half of the available vacancies are in the plantation sector, while the other half are in the manufacturing, such as plastics, food and textiles.  Although the government tried to reduce the dependence on foreigners, employers continued to hire foreign workers because local workers are not interested. 

Due to concerns that foreign workers are remitting about RM5 billion in foreign exchange a year, the Human Resources Ministry plans to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign workers.  Fong said that about one million workers, including irregular workers, accounted for the large amount of money sent out.  He said the ministry would encourage the locals to take up jobs vacated by the foreigners. 

Intensified crackdown on irregular migrants

Authorities have stepped up their campaign against irregular migrants, sending back 2,500 Indonesian workers last month and another 2,000 irregular Indonesian migrants recently.  They also plan to whip foreigners entering without valid documents, including first offenders.  Immigration Department Director General Mohd Jamal Kamdi was said to have mentioned revisions to the Immigration Act would go to the Parliament.  The government has announced its plans to send back up to 300,000 overseas workers to make jobs available for locals. 

Police launched a massive raid in the mainly Filipino migrant settlement of Jampiras (Sabah), where former ARRM governor Nur Misuari was nabbed.  They scoured houses in three villages to locate any Misuari loyalists or others from southern Philippines who might have fled to Sabah.  A total of 132 Filipino irregular migrants were nabbed in the operation for not having any documents. 

Meanwhile in Kuala Lumpur, police nabbed 423 people, suspected to be irregular migrants, including 39 children and 64 women during an operation around the Selayang wholesale market area. 

Irregular migrants rush to return home

Irregular migrants have resorted to buying passports from their compatriots to enable them to leave the country safely to celebrate Hari Raya back home.  Indonesian irregular migrants are said to be willing to pay up to RM1, 000 for a travel document, which includes the insertion of their photograph and a false Malaysian Immigration Department official entry stamp. Recently, 39 people were arrested for attempting to leave the country with forged passports.  They were caught at various exit points. They have been charged under Section 6(3) of the Immigration Act and sentenced to jail of between six months and year each. 

Influx of refugees, irregular migrants from the Philippines

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi warned of the possible influx of refugees from the Philippines to Sabah following the conflict in the southern part of the country.  Trouble broke out in southern Philippines after former governor of Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao Nur Misuari is alleged to have launched a rebellion when he was prevented from seeking office in the region’s elections.  Nur was arrested on Jampiras Island near Sandakan, Sabah for entering the country illegally.  Abdullah said authorities would monitor the Sabah coast to prevent Philippine rebels from entering the country. 

The government is set to tighten coastal security along the Straits of Malacca to counter the expected influx of irregular migrants during the festive season.  Deputy Supt. Abdul Aziz said marine police would intensify security in the waters off the Malaysia-Thailand border in anticipation of the surge in smuggling activities.    

Irregular migrants hide in villages

Negri Sembilan federal reserve unit general operation officer Inspector Abdul Ghafar Abdullah said that irregular migrants are renting houses in village areas to avoid detection by authorities.  It is also a ploy to confuse authorities. The migrants assume that operations would not be conducted in villages populated mostly by locals.  Most of those who rent houses are Bangladeshis and Indonesians.  Abdullah vowed that police would monitor the movement of irregular migrants continuously and would step up operations in villages.  The police would also conduct checks in fields where many foreign workers often stay.

An operation was conducted in which 49 irregular migrants were arrested at Labu and Nilai in Seremban, Negri Sembilan.  The 11 Burmese men and six Indonesian men had been detained in Labu.  Meanwhile, an operation in Taman Cempeka, Nilai, netted 29 men and two women from Indonesia and an Indian national.  All of them were working in the construction sector and did not have identification papers or working permits. 

Deportation of irregular migrants

The government will deport 1,700 Indonesian irregular migrants to reduce congestion at detention centers.  Abdullah said the deportees would be sent on two Indonesian naval ships, bringing the total number of Indonesian irregular migrants deported in recent months to 11,325.  Earlier, the government announced its plans to send some 10,000 Indonesian irregular migrants home every month, saying there were about 450,000 in the country.  Many of them are in the plantation and construction sectors. 

Malaysia deported another group of more than 500 Filipino immigrants, bringing to more than 1,000 the number of irregular Filipino migrants deported in the past week.  A total of 524 immigrants, 360 were men, were sent back to Zamboanga City by ferry from Sabah.  The government said the deportation of Filipinos would continue despite political turmoil in the southern Philippines. 

Abdullah announced that irregular migrants would be deported within two weeks of being caught.  He said the deportation of irregular migrants would be done as soon as possible following the riot that erupted at the Pekan Nenas detention center. 

Another deportation exercise was conducted with assistance from Indonesia, following the deportation of Indonesians after a riot at Pekan Nenas detention center.  A total of 2,000 Indonesians deported included 60 from detention centers in Juru, Penang, 210 from Lenggeng, Negri Sembilan, 1,013 from Semenyih, Selangor and 530 from Langkap, Perak.  Also deported were 144 inmates from Kajang prison and 530 from Sungai Buloh prison.     

Irregular migrants riot

More than 2,000 irregular migrants at the Pekan Nenas detention center staged a riot and set fire (4 December) to the four wooden longhouses, destroying them completely.  The reason of the riot remains unknown. State Immigration Deputy Director Wan Aziz Wan Mahmood declined to say if it was linked to the announcement that 1,700 Indonesians would be soon deported.  There were no known casualties. 

There were about 2,007 irregular migrants in the center, including 1,560 Indonesians.  The others include Nepalese, Bangladeshis, Indians, Burmese, Pakistanis, Cambodians, Thais, Africans, Singaporeans, Chinese, Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Nigerians and Liberians.  The authorities started sending all male inmates to deportation centers in Lenggeng in Negri Sembilan, Kemayan in Panhang and Machap Umboh in Malacca.  The 316 female inmates would remain at the center because their block was not affected. 

The Immigration Department deported 1,618 (sic) Indonesians from the Perak Nenas detention center after the riot.  Wan Aziz said the remaining 679 inmates, including 232 women, had been placed at detention centers in Kemayan and Machap Umboo.  The Indonesians were deported in ferries from the Kukup and Batu Pahat jetties.    

The Indonesian government apologized to Malaysia for the incident. Indonesia’s Manpower and Transmigration Minister Jacob Nuwa said his government was saddened by the incident and hoped that it would not last.  He said they would leave it to Malaysia to take action against those found guilty.  He however hoped that the government would understand that such migrants arrived in Malaysia to look for jobs and were not in the country to create trouble.  He also thanked the government for helping bear the cost of repatriating the Indonesians.      

Irregular migrants escaped detention

Authorities launched a manhunt for 17 irregular migrants who attacked a guard before escaping from a detention center in the southern state of Negri Sembilan (2 December).  The escapees were among the more than 1,000 irregular migrants held at the center. 

Between 1999 and July this year, more than 291,500 irregular migrants of various nationalities have been deported.  There are an estimated 600,000 irregular workers in the Malaysia, mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines. 

Aid for Afghans

Darul Ukhuwah, a Johor Chinese Muslim movement, has collected six tons of clothing worth RM50, 000 for Afghan refugees to help keep them warm during winter.  The clothing was handed over to Wisma Putra representative Mahmud Adam by state Religious Affairs Committee chair Hamzah Ramli. 

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad cleared that the Malaysians who went to Pakistan to help the Afghan refugees volunteered and were not pressured into it by the government.  He said the volunteers, including members of Umno Youth Humanitarian Mission and medical personnel, volunteered in order to contribute to the well being of the refugees.  He said these initiatives promote good relationships with Muslims of other nations.  

People smuggling ring suspect nabbed

Naeil Ahmad Abdullah, an Iraqi national, was arrested on suspicion of being the brains behind a syndicate that uses the country as a transit center to smuggle people from the Middle East to Australia.  He was believed to have been involved in human smuggling activities for the past five years. He was arrested while trying to renew his tourist visa.  His arrest came after the detention of 300 asylum seekers who were stopped at Christmas Island, Australia, in November.   He would be deported back to Iraq as investigations revealed that he had not contravened any immigration laws of the country.       

West Asian students to study in Malaysia

Political Secretary to the Prime Minister Datuk Dusuki Ahmad said that about 40,000 students from West Asia are expected to shift and study in the country soon.  He said West Asian countries had expressed confidence in the country’s education development, especially in Islamic studies.  They are also impressed with the country’s achievements in competing with western countries especially in education, he added.    

Sources:  AP, “17 detained illegals attack guards and flee," The Straits Times, 2 December 2001;  Bernama, “DPM: prepare for influx of refugees," The Star, 2 December 2001;  Bernama, “Illegals mix with villagers to avoid detection," The Straits Times, 2 December 2001;  AFP, “Malaysia to deport 1,700 Indonesian illegal immigrants," 3 December 2001;  Mazwin Nik Anis and Lam Li, “Illegal immigrants destroy longhouses detention center," The Star, 5 December 2001;  “Clothing for Afghans," The Star, 5 December 2001;  “Suspect behind people smuggling ring arrested," The Straits Times, 5 December 2001;  Mazin Nik Anis and Lam Li, “1,618 deported after riot and blaze at detention center," The Star, 6 December 2001;  AFP, “Malaysia deports another 500 illegal Filipinos," 6 December 2001;  Moses Loo, “Deportation of illegals two weeks after arrests," The Star, 7 December 2001;  Arnaz M. Khairul, “Indon navy vessel with illegals cargo leave for Surabaya," New Straits Times, 9 December 2001;  Chong Kwee Kim, “Fong: Malaysia still reliant on foreign workers," The Star, 9 December 2001;  Reuters, “Update 1 – Malaysia may whip first-time illegal immigrants," 9 December 2001;  Reuters, “Sabah cops search scores of houses in Filipino settlement," The Star, 9 December 2001;  V. Anbalagan, “RM5B flowing out," New Straits Times, 10 December 2001;  Shahar Yaacob, “Indonesia sorry for detention center riot," The Star, 10 December 2001;  “423 illegals napped in op," The Star, 10 December 2001;  Mazwin Nik Anis, “Illegals buying passports to return home," The Star, 11 December 2001;  Rahman Daud, “West Asian students looking at Malaysia," New Straits Times, 11 December 2001;  Embun Majid, “PM: aid groups volunteered to help Afghans," The Star, 12 December 2001;  AFP, “Marine police gear up for surge in illegals," 14 December 2001


Special welcome for OFWs

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) would welcome returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) through Pamaskong Handog para sa OFWs.  As part of the program, arriving OFWs would be issued a coupon to qualify for special prizes.  OWWA estimated that about 100,000 OFWs would vacation in the country during the holidays. 

This year’s theme: “Dito ka Magpasko, Dito ka Mamunuhan" (Spending Christmas at Home, Investing at Home) focuses on the government’s effort to encourage OFWs to invest their remittances in the country.  The project would be duplicated at Davao and Cebu airports.  It would run until 31 December. 

Training programs for OFWs

The Filipino Resource Center in Abu Dhabi and the office of the labor attaché/OWWA would be conducting new training courses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.  Registration for courses in computer, ballroom dancing, cooking-baking-food processing, aerobics for women and photography had begun in Abu Dhabi.  Ongoing courses include automotive, tailoring, dressmaking, cosmetology, Arabic language and culture, Shotokan (karate) and Kuntaw Kali-Silat (arnis).  Aside from these, short summer courses were also offered for children. 

OFWs to lose jobs

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas governor Rafael Buenaventura said the peso had not strengthened as much as expected due to slower remittances from OFWs worried about losing their jobs.  He said some OFWs decided to hold on to some of the remittances in case they lose jobs and that they would later start to remit again once their confidence is regained.  Overseas remittances are expected to drop by at least US$600 million from last year’s US$6.1 billion. 

Fair treatment of migrants, refugees urged

During the Intergovernmental Asia-Pacific Consultations on Refugees, Displaced Persons and Migrants, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas called for fair treatment of all kinds of migrants, including economic and political refugees.  She said the technology revolution has created a global village, adding that globalization is the wave of the future.  She urged the participants to take necessary steps to promote the welfare of migrants and ensure that globalization takes a human face.  She said globalization would accelerate three kinds of migrants: economic migrants, political refugees and displaced persons.  She also urged them to work together particularly on the exchange of information.  She encouraged the exchange of best practices and cited the need for technical assistance in the identification of market niches, ensuring the welfare of workers and the orderly movement and repatriation of migrants in times of crisis. She also urged governments to simplify recruitment and departure procedures since stringent and difficult requirements only encourage illegal movements that make migrants vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. 

More OFWs suing recruiters

Vic Fernandez, president of the Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc. (PASEI) revealed that more OFWs are suing their Manila-based job recruiters for infractions made by their foreign employers.  Job placement agencies in the Philippines have paid close to P3 billion (Dh240 million) in the last five years in court-mandated damages and out-of-court settlements to OFWs who got in trouble with their employers overseas.  He estimated the payments covering the 18-month period from January 2000 to June this year at Dh128 million.  The breakdown of payments during the period is: Dh27.3 million in 1997, Dh34.4 million in 1998 and Dh40 million in 1999.  The figures only represent cases in the National Labor Council and do not include those given by the regular courts and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). 

OFW absolved from murder charges

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported that the Kuwaiti police have exonerated Edgar Robea, one of the Filipino suspects in the killing of Canadian aircraft technician Luc Ethier, of murder charges.  He will soon be removed from the Kuwaiti immigration blacklist as soon as his release papers are presented to immigration officials.  He would be repatriated as soon as his release papers are processed.  The Filipinos claimed they were forced to admit to the crime.      

Foreigners face deportation

Some 414 foreigners are facing arrest and deportation for failing to pay P48 million which they owe to the government when they availed of the government’s amnesty program for illegal aliens five years ago.  Immigration Commissioner Andrea Domingo issued an ultimatum to the foreigners; mostly Chinese and Indians, to pay their fees or the Bureau of Immigration will cancel their permanent residence visas.  They were among the 16,000 foreigners who illegally entered the country before 30 July 1992 and applied for benefits under the Alien Integration Act of 1995.                         

Sources:  ABS-CBN News, “Special welcome for OFWs set," 2 December 2001; OFW Zone, “Filipino training program to start this month," 3 December 2001; Reuters, “OFW remittances slowed this year, says Buenaventura," Daily Tribune, 7 December 2001; ABS-CBN News, “Santo Tomas calls for fair treatment of migrants, refugees," 10 December 2001; Jay Hilotin, “More OFWs haul recruiters into court," Gulf News, 11 December 2001; Rey Arquiza, “414 aliens face deportation," Philippine Star, 11 December 2001; Michaela P. del Callar, “Kuwait absolves Pinoy from murder raps," Daily Tribune, 15 December 2001


Women migrants nabbed

More than 100 foreign women face deportation and charges for immigration and vice offences after police raided Orchard Towers.  The women from Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Mongolia, China and the Philippines were investigated for entering the country illegally or overstaying and are suspected of being sex workers. 

Employers banned from hiring domestic helpers

The Ministry of Manpower figures show that the number of people banned from employing a domestic helper because they abused their last one has risen in recent years.  From four cases in 1997, it climbed to eight in 1998, 20 in 1999 and 30 last year.  From January to October this year, 33 employers have been banned.  Penalties for abusive employers of domestic helpers have been toughened, increasing jail penalty for those who cause hurt by dangerous means from a maximum of five years to seven years, while knowingly causing grievous hurt could now go up to ten years in prison from the previous seven years.  There are now about 140,000 foreign domestic helpers, mostly from Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Burma. 

The Philippine Embassy showed a rise in the number of complaints from domestic helpers, from 38 in 1997 to 43 in 1998, 54 in 1999 and 58 last year.  So far this year, 55 complaints have been reported.  On the other hand, the Indonesian Embassy has seen a drop in complaints - 75 cases have been reported so far this year, compared to 110 in 1997. 

Complaints against domestic helper contracts

The Consumers Association of Singapore reported a rise in the number of complaints against unfair domestic helper agency contracts.  It said it received 262 complaints against domestic helper agencies this year.  Usually the complaints are related to dissatisfaction with the service provided. 

Irregular migrants nabbed

The Ministry of Manpower revealed that a total of 1,015 irregular migrants employed in food establishments were detained for the first nine months of the year, compared to 1,471 arrested over the previous two years.  Among those arrested this year, 36 percent were irregular workers, while 26 percent were social visit pass holders.  A ministry spokesperson attributed the rise to rigorous enforcement and tendency of irregular migrants to find casual work in the food service industry.  A raid at a Hougang coffee shop on 5 December netted 21 foreign workers who were found to be without valid work permits.  Ten of them held social visit passes, nine were immigration offenders and the other two had invalid work permits.       

Sources:  AFP, “Singapore crackdown on foreign sex workers," 2 December 2001;  Paula McCoy, “More banned from hiring maids after abuse," The Straits Times, 10 December 2001;  Arlina Arshad, “Maid contracts: complaints against agencies up," The Straits Times, 11 December 2001;  “More illegals caught working in food centers," The Straits Times, 14 December 2001


Foreign entertainers told to return home

The government pledged to crackdown on foreign singers and musicians as part of a scheme to cut the number of irregular migrant workers by up to 30 percent. While there were some 200 mostly Filipino singers, musicians and artists working legally in hotels and bars, many more had entered on three-month tourist visas.  Labor and Social Welfare deputy director Jeerasak Sokhonthachart said overseas entertainers remit about 100 million bath (US$2.2 million) every year.  There are about 500,000 irregular migrant workers in the country, mostly from Burma, Cambodia and Laos. 

Chinese migrants slip through Mekong River

Governor Rungrit Makarapong said many Chinese people illegally entered the country by boat after traveling along the Mekong River to Chiang Saen district.  Tanin Supasaen, Chiang Saen district officer, said the Chinese traveled along the Mekong to Muang Mom in Bokeo province in Laos and then use small boats to land between Ban Sop Ruak and the pier near the Chiang Saen district office. 

Burmese exiles face deportation

At least 80 Burmese face deportation to their country when the government closes its camp for Burmese political refugees later this month.  Maneeloy Holding Center in the western Ratchaburi Province is the main camp for former student activists who led the 1998 democracy uprising in Burma.  Many of them fled to Thailand after the military crushed the uprising which killed thousands. Since it was opened in 1992, almost 4,000 inmates had been granted asylum in third countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and several European countries. 

Some 200 to 300 asylum seekers from Burma staged a demonstration at the refugee camp, protesting the plans to move them to other camps and deport others.  The refugees fear that they would be persecuted if they were sent back to Burma. 

Gen Sanan Kajornklum, adviser to Defense Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, said the government should set a timeframe of three years for the repatriation of Burmese refugees and begin preparing for that goal.  He said a process should be drawn pending a tripartite agreement between Thailand, Burma and UNHCR.  He also proposed the setting up of coordination centers along the border to screen, register, train and educate refugees.    According to UNHCR data complied in October, there were 108,804 Burmese refugees living in 11 holding centers in Mae Hong Son, Tak, Kanchanaburi and Ratchaburi.                

Interior Minister Purachai Piumsombun told  hunger strikers that Maneeloy holding center would stay open longer than expected.  He said the center would remain open because UNHCR has not finished interviewing the 203 Burmese exiles to decide whether they could be resettled in third countries. 

Opium trade linked to Hmong  

A source at the US Office of the Narcotics Control Board said investigators believed the shipment of an estimated US$20 million (876 million baht) worth of opium was connected with some Hmong hilltribe people who were refugees at Wat Tham Krabok in Saraburi province.  Drug agents in Hickory, South Carolina seized the opium shipment and later arrested five people in the US in connection with the drug bust.   Investigators said the opium was sent from Thailand to the US hidden in clothing.      

Sources:  AFP, “Foreign entertainers in Thailand told to pack up and go home," 3 December 2001;  “Illegal Chinese slip in via Mekong River," Bangkok Post, 3 December 2001;  AP, “Myanmar exiles fear deportation by Bangkok," Borneo Bulletin, 7 December 2001;  AP, “Refugees protest camp closure," Borneo Bulletin, 7 December 2001;  Achara Ashayagachat, “Three-year repatriation goal urged for Burmese refugees," Bangkok Post, 13 December 2001;  AP, “US opium bust linked to Hmong," Bangkok Post, 15 December 2001;  “Brief stay for Maneeloy," Bangkok Post, 15 December 2001  



Nauru will accept more boatpeople

The Federal government has asked Nauru to accept hundreds more asylum seekers, an indication that Australia will not easily give up its Pacific solution.  Nauru President Rene Harris said the cabinet would make the decision despite his earlier pronouncements that no more asylum seekers would be taken.  The island is also providing shelter to more than 700 Iraqi and Afghan asylum seekers.  He said the country has the ability to take in at least 400 to 500 more asylum seekers.  He said Australia has not yet offered any sort of assistance in return for processing asylum seekers on top of the estimated A$20 million aid for taking the first batch. 

As of 11 December, Nauru agreed to accept another 400 boatpeople intercepted by the navy in addition to the 800 being processed in the island.  Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said President Harris has signed a memorandum of understanding to accept a maximum of 1,200 persons to be accommodated at the two processing facilities in the country at any one time.  Aside from the additional A$10 million aid, Australia would continue to shoulder all costs associated with the transfer, processing and accommodation of asylum seekers in addition to meeting the operating costs of processing procedures.    

Boatpeople deported, turned back

The government deported 34 irregular migrants back to Middle East and North Africa. Immigration Minister Ruddock said 33 people tried to enter the country illegally by boat and one person had overstayed their visa and were sent home aboard a chartered aircraft.  The group of 32 men and two women consisted of 20 Palestinians, two Syrians, two Moroccans and ten Iranians. 

Australia announced that the navy had turned back an Indonesian vessel carrying 17 suspected irregular migrants.  Justice and Customs Minister Chris Ellison said the vessel was detected by a Customs Watch plane about 45 miles from Ashmore Island.  The vessel was last observed heading towards the port of Pepela on the Indonesian island of Roti.  

Ruddock: world following asylum stance

Minister Ruddock said that the world is following the government’s lead in introducing deterrents to prevent asylum seekers from abusing the system to seek better life in Western countries.  He rejected criticisms of the government’s hard line approach, saying there is a worldwide trend towards a more restrictive definition of the term refugee. He cited Britain’s recent tightening of its immigration restrictions and Denmark’s wave of anti-refugee sentiment.  He added that the US and Canada have stopped taking in refugees due to 11 September security concerns.

Pacific solution criticized

Minister Ruddock has conceded that the government’s Pacific Solution may not be sustainable if the number of boatpeople rises.  His admission showed that Australia would be forced ultimately to take most of the boatpeople being held in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.  Despite the government’s prior insistence on the sustainability of the Pacific Solution, it has persisted with the building of two extra detention centers on the mainland, an indication that it expects to process asylum seekers in the mainland in the future. 

Minister Ruddock insisted that the policy is working as a way of deterring people from coming to Australia and he does not want to abandon it.  He said the government would only change its policy is so many people arrived that they could not all be housed on the available islands. 

The Catholic Church in Melbourne accused the government of subjecting asylum seekers to acts of intimidation and inciting xenophobic fears in the community.  The church’s report also accused the government of creating the Tampa crisis and treating Pacific nations as if they were client states subject to its bidding.  The report entitled ‘Australian Human Rights Register’ calls the community to pressure the government to abandon the policy and develop a new policy on processing claims for refugee status. 

Detention causes mental health problems

Dr. Aamer Sultan, an Iraqi doctor who was denied permission to personally accept a human rights award at a ceremony by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Human Rights in Sydney.  An article by Dr. Sultan and former visiting psychologist Kevin O’Sullivan on the health of asylum seekers provoked the ire of Minister Ruddock.  The article, based on participant observation of 33 long-term detainees at Villawood detention center, observed character changes among asylum seekers, including young children.  Depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies were noted among children in detention centers. The report warned psychiatrists against working in immigration centers as the mental health of asylum seekers is being seriously damaged by prolonged confinements. The article urged the medical profession to reinforce the principle of health care as a right for detainees. Mr. Ruddock had written to the Medical Journal of Australia to complain about the article.        

Detainees protest

About 100 irregular migrants lit eight fires and held three protests during the recent unrest at the Woomera detention center.  It was believed that the riot was caused by anger at the small amount of recent releases from the center. 

Call for rise in immigration levels; Howard’s stance changing

Premier Steve Bracks called for substantial increase in the country’s immigration levels to boost economic activity and reinforce the nation’s cultural diversity.  He also offered to take an increased proportion of the country’s intake of migrants and refugees, insisting that Victoria would gain economically and culturally.  His offer came as the chair of Victorian Major Events and the National Gallery of Victoria, Steve Vizard, called for a summit on population policy and the chief executive of BHP Billiton, Paul Anderson, warned that without a policy change, Australia’s population would begin to decline in about 25 years. 

Mr. Bracks also called on the government to end its Pacific Solution to the asylum seeker problem, saying that refugees should be processed in Australia.  He said sending the asylum seekers to Pacific Islands for processing was expensive, unworkable and should have never been implemented.  Amnesty International also lambasted the policy as a trade in human misery.             

In response to Mr. Bracks comments, Prime Minister John Howard said that he is not “fixated on a particular level of refugees," which observers noted as a softening of the stance he has taken since the campaign. He also left the way open for an increase in the general migration program.

The Howard government has reduced the immigration queue by cutting family reunion migration generally and limiting the number of refugees from Iraq in particular.  Figures showed that the numbers of Iraqis accepted in the last years of the Labor government in the offshore humanitarian program peaked in 1994 to 1995 and 1995 to 1996 at 2,245 and 2,170, respectively.  The figures were then reduced under the Howard government to 1,599 in 1996 to 1997 and 1,393 in 1997 to 1998.  The numbers dropped even further when the overseas refugee queue from all over the world was frozen by Minister Ruddock between November 1999 and April 2000.  As a result, the government’s refugee and special humanitarian intake for 1999 to 2000 was short of the planned 12,000 figure with only 9,960 people who came.  The government partly made up for it when it accepted 13,733 the following year.

Sources:  Andrew Clennel, “Nauru asked to take more boatpeople," Sydney Morning Herald, 1 December 2001; AFP, “Australia deports 34 boat people," 4 December 2001; Christopher Kremmer, “Ruddock on refugees: copy us is to flatter us," Sydney Morning Herald, 5 December 2001; Andrew Clennel, “Refugee plan may backfire, says Ruddock," Sydney Morning Herald, 6 December 2001; AAP, “Detainees light fires in protest," The Age, 6 December 2001; ABC, “Pacific Solution effective and likely to stay: Ruddock," 6 December 2001;  Richard Baker and Michael Gordon, “Bracks appeals for more immigrants," The Age, 7 December 2001;  Andrew Clennel, “The truth about that queue: it’s shrinking," Sydney Morning Herald, 7 December 2001;  Andrew Clennell, “Howard adopts softer stance on refugees," Sydney Morning Herald, 8 December 2001; Michael Gordon and Kerry Taylor, “Refugee policy damned," The Age, 10 December 2001;  AAP, “Detention centers ‘breed hatred’," The Age, 10 December 2001;  AFP, “Nauru to accepts another 400 boatpeople," 11 December 2001;  Mike Seccombe, “Detainees for succour: Nauru to get $10m more," Sydney Morning Herald, 12 December 2001;  Reuters, “Australia turns back boat carrying 17 migrants," 15 December 2001

New Zealand

New talent visa unveiled

Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel announced a talent visa and a skill shortage work permit designed to cut immigration red tape in the hiring of foreign workers for jobs paying above NZ$45,000.  The talent visa would allow employers to recruit people who will be allowed to work in the country for two years, who would then be eligible to apply for permanent residence if they have ongoing employment.  The new scheme is intended to attract those who might not want to live in the country permanently. 

Afghan refuges to be settled

Half of the Afghan asylum seekers taken in by the government after the boat people were refused entry to Australia have been granted the right to live in New Zealand.  Immigration Service spokesperson Ian Smith said 14 families, totaling 60 people, will be settled in state-owned housing in the main cities of Auckland and Christchurch.  Another six families are expected to be settled by Christmas. 

Sources:  AP, “NZ ‘talent visa’ to speed up hiring of foreigners," The Straits Times, 5 December 2001;  AP, “New Zealand settles first group of ‘Tampa’ refugees," Times of India, 11 December 2001.


Graziano Battistella and Maruja Asis


Ma. Cecilia Guerrero and Nappy Navarra


Asian Migration News, 15 December 2001

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