UNHCR Affiliates Accused of Refugee Corruption
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UNHCR Affiliates Accused of Refugee Corruption

By KO HTWE Saturday, October 2, 2010


KUALA LUMPUR—Several Burmese organizations in Malaysia, which are affiliated with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), are selling resettlement registrations for profit to refugees, according to victims of the scheme and witnesses in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

The groups in question include the Chin Refugee Committee (CRC), the National League for Democracy (Liberated Area) Malaysia (NLDLA), the Burma Refugee Organization (BRO) and the Arakan Refugees Relief Committee (ARRC). But sources say other affiliated groups, including several ethnic representatives, are also involved.

Burmese refugees protest in front of the UNHCR offices in Kuala Lumpur in 2009. (Photo: AFP)
Earlier this year, the UNHCR began delegating the authority for issuing resettlement registration documents to Burmese groups based in Malaysia. Refugees who are recommended for resettlement by the agencies are then interviewed by the UNHCR. The exception is the CRC, which was first authorized to register its people for resettlement in 2001.

The UNHCR began issuing registration documents for Burmese refugees on Aug. 17 in a process that ended on Sept. 19. According to the sources, some 6,000 refugees from Burma were recommended for resettlement during that period. 

Speaking to The Irrawaddy, Ko Maung, a member of both the BRO and NLDLA, said, “I became a member of two organizations doing business with the Burmese refugees. I have paid a so-called 'membership fee' of 60 Malaysian Ringgit (US $20) per month to each group for one year now. But when the UNHCR began registering refugees, I was overlooked for others who had paid more money.

“I’ve no document to live in Malaysia,” he added. “I am frustrated that the UNHCR passed responsibility [for the registration process] to other organizations and that it is not involved directly with the refugees.”

Possession of UNHCR registration documents are highly prized among Burmese refugees in Malaysia because it offers them some protection if they are arrested by the Malaysian authorities. Registered refugees also qualify for half-price medical services at several local hospitals.

Fees to register with brokers such the CRC, the BRO and the NLDLA have gone up since the process began from 310 Ringgit ($100) to 700 Ringgit ($225), say sources. In each case, the Burmese groups then promise to put the paying refugees on a priority list with the UN, the sources said.

“I heard that the BRO was charging 500 Ringgit ($160) to register a refugee while the NLDLA was charging 700 Ringgit,” said Sunny, a Burmese migrant worker who came to Malaysia with a work permit. “I cannot decide whether I should register or not.”

Burmese refugees who are registered for resettlement by the UNHCR frequently wait for up to one year or longer for resettlement toa third country.

“In general, many Burmese migrants think that the Malaysian-based NLDLA is organizing a boycott for the upcoming election, but what they are really doing is cheating money out of people who want refugee registration.” said Kyaw Htoo Aung, a social worker who works with illegal Burmese migrants. “I cannot stand it. I have interviewed victims of the scheme and posted their testimonies on my blog.”

Both the NLDLA and the ARRC refuted the accusations when contacted by The Irrawaddy. The BRO said it has no spokesperson who can comment on the matter.

Ethnic Burman and Arakanese people were not recognized as “refugees” by the UN until this year. About 50 Arakanese protested on June 6 outside the UNHCR office in Malaysia, saying the UN was discriminating between different Burmese ethnic groups and religious affiliations.

Yan Naing Tun, the editor of Thuriya, a bi-monthly journal based in Kuala Lumpur, said, “The UNHCR give first priority to Chins and Rohingyas. They discriminate against other ethnicities. It has become very difficult for real refugees to get registered.

“As far as I can remember, the UNHCR employed a Chin translator when it started the operation,” he added. “However, they did not employ translators for other ethnicities, including Burmese.”

The UNHCR did not respond to the accusations when contacted by The Irrawaddy.

The CRC said that in 2001 several Chin leaders urged the UNHCR to grant refugee registration to their people and that the process began that same year.

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White Elephant Wrote:
Salai Chin,
Contributing untruthful news is not your right at all. Misusing freedom of the press can lead you to facing lawsuit in court. Almost everyone in Burma, except military personnel or their associates, is a refugee. Please help them as much as you can to free them from unjust military rule.

Accusing others is easy but giving a helping hand is difficult. What did you and Maung Htwe do for others in the past? BRO, NLDLA and CRC have been doing something but you guys are just sitting and doing nothing.

Natshinnaung Wrote:
This article must not be posted by Irrawaddy under "NEWS" section. News is supposed to be reporting true events. I do not think Maung Htwe's article contains any truth at all.

There are many refugee Agencies in Malaysia. If Maung Htwe wants to pick one, he can go to an agency where his father-in-law is running the business, not CRC. Because CRC is so busy helping the ones who need it.

Taang Paal Wrote:
It spells out several organizations but I see only about 3. Why not share others as well to be fair with the three in sync with the "several organizations". Some people are curious about it as well.

Hey, Irrawaddy you will be so much popular now and onwards. More and more people will know about your media. Is this your marketing strategy? Not that bad huh.

By the way, Resettlement and Registration are two totally different entities though. Half true information but worth it to promote your website.

Thanglian Wrote:
Hey, who ever u are.... i worked with both the UNHCR and communities and knew if those things ever happened... if you want to publish something you must find out the actual truth... I knew BRO and NLDLA, both located at Puchung. i know what they have done to members, and the UNHCR also knew what they did, but to others organizations or commmunities those things will not happen... if you wish to find out more about what happened you may please call me at 260-444-9767 (USA)

steven Wrote:
one thing i do know is that people who work in UNHCR' affliated organization, ex CRC, became rich.

Salai Chin Wrote:

Keep up the good work of revealing corruptions of any kind and committed by anyone regardless of who they are- let them be from inside the regime circles or other anti- regime camps. Just write information that matters to people from Burma/Myanmar.

While we are standing up against the Military regime, it is VERY important we remember ourselves and clean up our own dirt. There are thousands of news stories that sometimes report incorrect facts BUT what you do is nothing wrong as long as you uncover the possible danger that might undermine the moral being and dignity of the People of Burma-be they Chin , Burmese, Kachin or whoever.

While Ko Htwe has the full right to write/report, others also have right to defend and reject the writing.

I wanted to vomit blood while I read this article. Did Ko Htwe research as well about all refugees from Burma in Malaysia? The words of this article were baseless and scandalous. I guess the author might be one of the SPDC's spies because he's supporting their likes.

Vantlang Mualcin Wrote:
We do not complain much when we have been displaced restless by the Burmese soldiers from our own villages and houses. It happens to every ethnic minority and we see it like part of life in Burma. However, it makes us leave our birthplace for a strange land. But some Burmese people are still chasing us and still bothering us. Is there any other ethnic group who can make more trouble than the Burmans on earth? I doubt it.

Ngal Hriang Wrote:
Please do not have the mentality of a person who throws sands to the meatloaf which he cannot eat. This is what Ko Htwe has done. He makes himself an idiot and he also makes Irrawaddy like New Light of Myanmar. Instead of complaining and crying like babies, follow the Chins from behind and you will get there too.

Kyaw Moe NLD (LA) Malaysia Wrote:
I write in reference to your article dated Saturday, 02 October 2010, “UNHCR Affiliates Accused of Refugee Corruption” in which it was alleged that NLD (LA) Malaysia is “cheating money out of people who want refugee registration”.

For the past several months NLD(LA) Malaysia has been collecting names and basic information of members who are in need of protection and cannot return to Burma. This process has involved traveling to various states in Malaysia in order to collect biographical information, which is then passed on to UNHCR for registration purposes. This process has involved traveling over 480 Kms to four states in Malaysia in order to ensure that our members’ information is shared with the UNHCR. All of this has been done using our membership funds, as well as personal funds of individual members working on a voluntary basis with NLD(LA). The traveling and communication costs involved in this process were therefore absorbed either personally by members of NLD(LA), or through our membership fees.

The person interviewed for the article also alleges that he paid a membership fee of 60 Malaysian Ringits per month to the organization in the hopes of getting registered for resettlement and was overlooked for others who had paid more money. In this regard it is important to note two points: First, registration was not at all for resettlement purposes, but rather for initial registration of refugee status determination by UNHCR.-- It has therefore nothing to do with resettlement; Second, NLD (LA)’s membership fee consists of a 50 Ringit initial membership fee and a subsequent 10 Ringits per month. These fees are used not only for registering refugees with UNHCR, but also for all our activities, which include programs for migrants and refugees, and which are used for advocacy purposes and forwarding the cause of justice and democracy in Burma.

The person interviewed in the article states that he registered with NLD (LA) in the hopes of getting registered with UNHCR. From his statement, it appears that the person in question is not committed to the goals of NLD (LA) and/or struggling for justice and democracy in Burma, but is rather selfishly concerned with his own individual needs. The only people being cheated are not those who wish to be registered as refugees, but the NLD(LA) itself and the people of Burma who continue to struggle for justice with no help from the person interviewed for this article and others like him.

Chief La Raw Wrote:
Instead of barking at the Chins, try to become friend to the Chins if you want to receive what you cannot do by yourself.

Salai Tluangvellian Wrote:
The Irrawaddy
my first comment wasn't posted. Still Ok!

1. The Irrawaddy news agency never put the achievement of CHIN peoples in their articles rather then bad news .

2. The so-called writer "Ko Htwe" is pure Burman(Bama) and directly discriminates against the ethnic, particularly Chin peoples (CRC).

3. There was no way to register a non-Chin refugee through the CRC because the UNHCR has given equal opportunity to Bama Ta Kyat, Chin Ta Kyat, Kachin Ta Kyat. Policies and registation was based on ethnicities or communities based on a rotation system.

4. In the last part the writer quotes "about 38,500 are Chins, 19,700 are Rohingyas, 7,400 are Burmese Muslims, 3,900 are Mon, and 3,500 are Kachins or from other smaller ethnic minorities," he doesn't mention Burman(Buma_lu-my0 ) in Number. Is it that the Burman(BAma-Lu-Myo) are a minority? Any Question?

5. I am wondering if "Ko Htwe" has been well trained or whether the editorial team is well-trained?

[Ed: The original text in no 5 of this post was as follows:

"Wandering!! Are well-trained to "KO HTWE" by Irrawaddy? or members of editorial team are well trained.? "

Perhaps the edited version of 5 above is a faulty interpretation. Please note that if the editor is unable to interpret the meaning of a post, part or all of that post may be deleted]

Tluang salai

Stephen Wrote:
The Article writer,

Let me tell you something that you might not realise or consider . Before 2001 , No Non-Chin (Burmese) ever wanted to be a refugee except Rohinyas refugees. 90 percent of Non-Chin (Burmese People in malaysia) just said they would not be able to go back to Myanmar if registered with UNHCR. Most of them refused to be a refugee. But Thousand of Chin Refugees have already been registered with UNHCR since 2001. Thousand of Chin refugees are on a waiting list submitted to the UNHCR for registration.

The UNHCR has a registration policy of "First come, first served ". If the Non-Chin (Burmese) Refugees in Malaysia had registered with UNHCR earlier before the Chin refugees, these Non-Chin (Burmese) refugees would also have been served by the UNHCR.

In fact, you should be clear that the UNHCR has not been giving priority to any race , religion , organization.

Pls be mindful about history, time , sources and facts. which must be reliable.

Nagar Nge Wrote:
Because of these rootless accusations, The Irrawaddy is committing suicide. The article does not provide any solid facts or witnesses that can uniquely prove the accuracy.

The Irrawaddy has been holding a very respectful dignity for years. But if this kind of rootless article keeps popping up here, I would like to say The Irrawaddy will soon be left by its readers.

The photo shown in the article also is not relevent to the message because, the photo is about the protest of Rohinja (countryless people) in front of the UNHCR office. By the way, they always cause problems wherever they are.

pawthoot Wrote:
We Burmese (at this point, I mean, all citizens of Burma regardless of race, such as Burman, Chin, Karen, Mon, Rakhine, Rohingya or Tayot and Kalar), want to keep a low-profile whatever we did wrong. Exposing the corruption has no race, religion and nation. I appreciate The Irrawaddy's effort to break the taboo. Supporting or hiding corruption is only mean: SHAME ON YOU!

Ttutpi Wrote:
To The Irrawady,
Are you trying to turn your media from a well-known news agency to a notorious one? How dare you post such baseless and illogical news? If you want to talk about Obama, you should study his background first before you make comment over his religion and beliefs. If you contend Obama is a Muslim just by eavesdropping over people you can't verify who they really are, then you are gone! Likewise, if you talked about the UNHCR, you should have at least studied its processes. However, you already missed that chance, so sad.

I am wandering if your members of editorial team are well trained! I am just worried that your media might become a pond filled with rotten fish... .

Still, you have got the chance ahead to redeem your dignity if you wish to stand on the right position as before by collecting news from the right people at the right places.

Simon Wrote:
Dear Irrawaddy,
The first comment I did wasn't posted. Let me do it again here. It well appears, for the writer's intention, that this article surely indirectly discriminates against the ethnic, particularly Chin nationals even though The Irrawaddy shouted slogans for freedom, equality and fairness that we never can imagine to see.

I am afraid that people who read this will believe it as reality. CRC will never conduct like BRO and NLDLA. It would be wise not to publish articles that could trigger the hatred among the Burman and ethnicities. And you do it now. At best, you'd better be an excellent negotiator between the hardliners through the advocacy by your media exquisite work.

As a matter of fact, I clearly understand your source is a lot of rubbish. It's not worth paying your dignity. Hope things never go like this. May The Irrawaddy be strong.

may myo Wrote:
The writer of the article KO HTWE

Wake up ! you are such an arrogant writer. Remember Malaysia in not the Country of Burman or (bama) any more. Why do you still want to use Burmanization (one race , One Religion, One nation Systems) way in abroad in Malaysia?

The fact and real situation in Malaysia is that as Aung Naing said: "Chin Refugees Organization struggled for many years in Malaysia to reach UNHCR. Finally, their prayer was answered. The rest of the Burmese people reap benefits from their hard work.

Your article was full of bias and misleading information, false statement of quote. Next time if you want to publish Refugees issues please more focus more on not only on current situation but also remember the Burmese Refugees history in Malaysa and why and how is was started and process .

Here is a question for you ?
Dose the Buman/ ( Bama- Lu-Myo ) suffer from religious persecution / forced labor such as portering, torture , rape and murder?

Van Thawng Ling Wrote:
Dear Editor,

Ever since CRC was founded in 2001, the same kind of rumor arose from time to time. But there was no evidence of such action by the CRC. As the coordinator mentioned, the CRC registers only Chin refugees.

The Irrawaddy should separate the Chin or other ethnic groups from each other. Actions
done by other organizations should not affect the CRC.

There is no way to register a non-Chin refugee through CRC by giving bribes.

Ko Ye Wrote:
Hi Irrawaddy,

Why you dare not post our comments? :P

Be brave enough please! :)

it has been open secret since 2003-4. Many fake refugees from Chin-hill came to resettle Canada by paying bribes to Chin organizations based in Malaysia as well as Chin interpreters who worked for local UNHCR offices. A Chin refugee girl from Vancouver who came to Canada from India by faking her asylum claim (she is an Indian citizen), even got employment from UNHCR-Malaysia as an interpreter and went there to work in 2004. After she went to Malaysia as an interpreter, many Chin start to arrive in Canada as refugees and told us that they paid her (interpreter who is married to a Rakhine boy) to fake their stories (some pretended to be unaccompanied minors or under-aged children) and got free ticket to get Canada PR or U.S refugee resettlement within several months. It is shame for Myanmar and the real needy people like Min Ko Naing whose opportunities are abused by fake refugees who usurp and corrupt. Well done Irrawaddy! I will forward this article to Malaysia parliament. Long live Burma and ASSK

Phone Kyaw Wrote:
Yes, That's a true situation in Malaysia. All Burmese refugees organizations in Malaysia just focus on profits, money. It is like refugee trafficking. It shows that the the UNHCR offices in Malaysisa lack proper policy to address Burmese refugee's issue.

I believe that all Burmese refugee organizations in Malaysia should be closed down and not affilated with the UNHCR office in KL.

Some UNHCR staffs and reps from these orgs have a common interests for profits. Believe it or not. That's a true condition. Thanks for this news Irrawaddy. Cheers.

Myanmar Patriots Wrote:
It is utterly disgusting. Is this the mirror image of the corruption of government employees and state agents in Burma? It is so sad that our people have sunk so low. Where are the moral principles?

The Burmese groups, who purport to bring down the military junta and usher in democracy and justice, are doing this. Sick.

An overwhelming majority of our people, 75% being farmers, and many city and town dwellers are innocent and pure. Majority of soldiers are patriotic and do their job as commanded.

The corrpution of govt employees and Burmese groups such as mentioned in this artilce are the cause of Burma's ugly image. They really need to reassess their moral stance.

Sai Lin Wrote:
It’s very sad because some of the Burmese are opportunists and take a chance at whatever comes into their sight. They are sucking the blood of their country men and women. These peoples should be prosecuted by Malaysia Law and their names given to UNHCR, Australian, Canadian and US Government. They will not allow settling in these countries if they were corrupted human traffickers. I hope The Irrawady and other Burmese media will reveal these peoples’ namse in their Magazine.

Siang Bawi Wrote:
I don't usually like to comment on Irrawaddy but this is the last straw. As always, when it comes to the coverage of Chins, its always negative. Yes, other groups may have charged fees, but to disparage an organization that has worked with UNHCR for more than 10 years is just ridiculous.

Perhaps, the Irrawaddy should focus more on what it does best: reporting on Thai-Burma border issues and Bama-related news. We don't really need biased news coverage of Chins by The Irrawaddy.

Fort Worth, TX

AungKo Wrote:
Sincerely, I'd like to ask the author to post further information in relation to the following Questions- 1. To what extent could the refugee communities involved in the registration be monitored by UNHCR ?

2.Is the CRC really able to include the non-speaker of the chin language into their community and get UN registration as the chin people since the interpreter employed in the UNHCR were chin translators as mentioned?

3. Why was this kind of article written only when the UNHCR began issuing the registration documents for Burmese ?

Kennedy Lalram Lian Wrote:
Editor, The Irrawady,

Thanks for revealing the incidents taking place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I am kennedy Lalram Lian, current coordinator of the CRC. When I was interviewed, I clearly mentioned that we are looking for the evidence of who did corruption among our members in connection with the registration process in the mobile registration.

The UNHCR officer is aware of the potential fraud and corruption and there are strict rules which the community organization should follow. Any non-Chin (Burmese) was allowed to sit on the registration interview based on the language he or she speaks but it was impossible to get registration for non-Chin from the Chin list.

A person who might be willing to pay money would not get registered unless he speaks Chin. There might be someone who was doing as you mentioned. We are looking for such persons who are involved in such corruption.

Please kindly help us find with more evidence. Can you please give us the contact No. of Ko Aung whom you mentioned.

Salai Liandang Wrote:
It will be a sad sad story if the CRC works this way. I myself try to help everyone from Burma who needs help when he or she needs to file for legal status in the USA. I never ask them for money.

I even help Chinese and Indians from Burma. I know quite a lot about the CRC, and I do not think the CRC is corrupt like the SPDC. It was founded by the Chins to help their own kind, but the CRC has never been a closed organization so far. If the accusation made against CRC is true, we all need to rebuke them seriously. There should be no partiality among the citizens of the Union of Burma. We all need to see each other as brother and sister.

Pa Hup Wrote:
I believe that the CRC or any other organization affliated with the UNHCR does not have the authority to issue refugee status. In fact it is decided after a long interview conducted by RSD officers and reviewed by the head officers. If the case is so complex and involves the incidence of crminal offences, then it wil be sent to Geneva, where a decision will be reached.

Aung Naing Wrote:
No one, no organization and nothing is perfect. But good people and good organizations try to handle things to their best. Chin Refugees Organization struggled for many years in Malaysia to reach UNHCR. Finally, their prayer was answered. The rest of the Burmese people reaps benefits from their hard work. I myself, even though I am not a Chin, got resettled in a third country. Instead of complaining, I thank my brothers and sisters who opened the door for us.

Members of CRC will never satisfy everyone's prayers, but they are doing their best for everyone who goes to them for help.

Ungpui Wrote:
If we want to get first class treatment from Malay UNHCR, the other ethnics leaders should copy the way the Chin leaders are lobbying the UNHCR, various governments and the international community.

Otherwise, we should keep our big mouthsa shut.

George Than Setkyar Heine Wrote:
Yan Naing Tun saying, “The UNHCR give first priority to Chins and Rohingyas. They discriminate against other ethnicities. It has become very difficult for real refugees to get registered" is true.

Looks like Chin hills are bereft of the natives inhabiting them since time immemorial, no doubt.
Of course Chins are Christians and Rohingyas are Muslims. And Malaysia is an Islamic country also.
A Christian pastor once said to me " Jesus gets people to third world countries and from there to heaven".

Now I see Prophet Mohamed also can do the same in Malaysia.

Burma's struggle for freedom and democracy has become a JACKPOT for all ethnics - Karens, Mons, Chins, Kachins, Rohingys etc. of Burma and even ethnic Chinese and Muslims as well as I have noted long ago, seizing their opportunities to find safe havens and fortunes in alien lands no doubt.

This will remain a fertile ground for human traffickers as long as Than Shwe rules Burma, trust me.

Even the UN has corrupted I see.

Thi Ha Wrote:
In fact, the UNHCR never based on who you are. Everyone's case depends on what you have done in your claim.

tocharian Wrote:
Sad story. Why is corruption so rampant nowadays in Asia? I know it happens elsewhere too, but it's getting out of control in that part of the world. Without bribing or bullying, nothing seems to get done. That's clearly what's happening everywhere in Burma, especially the border areas and now it is spreading to wherever Burmese refugees of different "ethnicities" conglomerate. It just proves that the traditional moral fibre of the country has eroded to such an extent that honesty ("yo de") has now become a synonym for being dumb ("a de"). Pathetic!

Lang Nya Tu Myar Wrote:
Every business will have an opposition group.

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