Disturbance in the city of the Victorious Prince

The PM's palace in the spookily empty Putrajaya. Photo by Peter Boyle.

Putrajaya (meaning “Prince’s Victory”), the seat of Malaysia’s federal government, was  built as a US$8 billion plus fantasy project of the country’s former PM and strongman Mohamed Mahathir. It was carved out of rubber plantation-covered hills in the 1990s and turned into a grandly planned city for public servants. Many buildings were designed to look like palaces – with an eclectic mix of styles from around the world giving the city the look of a sprawling, but spookily empty, theme park.

However, this emptiness was shattered for a while on August 23 when some 10,000 desperate refugees, who had fled  the brutal military dictatorship in Burma, converged on the immigration department offices because they feared imminent mass deportation.

Distressed refugees in Putrajaya on August 23. Photo by Tenaganita.

According to a media statement by Tenaganita, a Malaysian NGO that protects and promotes the rights of women, migrants and refugees, the refugees who had UNHCR cards were informed that they needed to get registered in the biometric system  at the Putrajaya immigration office.  Thousands of people – elderly, ill, young children, mothers with babies stood for hours in a cramped place, waited only to be told that they had to come the next day as the Immigration department could only register up to 2500 persons a day.

Those who managed to get registered under the biometric system became even more alarmed when they were then issued with a slip which said: “Purpose: Return to Home Country”.

The government responded by mobilising a notorious volunteer militia that has been used to control refugees and migrant workers.  Eyewitnesses  said that the militia turned up armed with sticks and abused and threatened the terrified refugees.

It was just another day in the nightmare that is life for the nearly 100,000 refugees stuck in Malaysia, a country that has not signed UN conventions on refugee rights and a country to which the Australian government is trying to deport 800 asylum seekers to. It was just a tiny bit of the misery that is the life of the 43.7 million people estimated by the UNHCR to displaced worldwide.

Green Left Weekly gives voice to refugees and their supporters who are campaigning against the immoral and illegal treatment of asylum and seekers and refugees especially by wealthy countries like Australia. Please make a contribution this week to the Green Left Fighting Fund. Donate online today. Or direct deposits can be made to Greenleft, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992. Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or phone in a donation through on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia).

Putrajaya: Neat, grand but lifeless. Photo by Peter Boyle.

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