Listening to Van Vel Thang’s (not his real name) story was like listening to a tourist rate the various hotels he’s been to in Malaysia. Only the “hotels” were the various detentions centres that he was detained and shuffled back and forth over a period of 7 months.

Vel Thang was arrested by the Immigration in Batu Pahat, Johor in December last year. He holds a UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) card, which was why, he explained, “I didn’t run away. They stopped me before, at KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre – a shopping mall) but I had a UNHCR card so they let me go”. In Batu Pahat, the Immigration people asked me “Do you have an identity card?” I said no. “Do you have a passport?”. I said no. I told them I am a refugee and I have a UNHCR card. They told me to “follow us to the station – you can tell your story there”.

At the station, they told me that “if UNHCR comes tonight, you can go”. It was Saturday, and when we called the UNHCR hotline, they told us that their office is closed and that they can only send people on Monday.” Batu Pahat is a town in Johor, whilst the only UNHCR office is in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur – two states away.

They were sent to Pekan Nenas detention centre, where they spent 57 days in detention. “Nobody can visit us for the first 14 days, so we waited for that period to be over, but the UNHCR never came. The Immigration officers told us that the UNHCR did not want to come, but when we called the UNHCR, they told us that the Immigration are not letting them in. “We went on a hunger strike for 10 days”. (more…)