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UN Refugee Commissioner Hands Over Burmese Muslims to Malaysian Police

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has handed 18 Burmese Muslims over to the Malaysian police after rejecting their claims for asylum.

Shinji Kubo, an officer with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said the asylum seekers did not have credible evidence that their lives were in danger Burma, so they were turned away.

"UNHCR made every effort to find ways to assist this group of people since the beginning of the occupation last Monday, Tuesday. Trying to study their claims, applying international laws. Unfortunately, we have concluded that they did not provide substantial or critical statement to qualify for refugee status," Mr. Kubo said.

The 18 Burmese Muslims, known as Rohingyas, had climbed into the UNHCR's compound in Kuala Lumpur last week, and had been staying there. They are illegal immigrants, and wanted help from the refugee agency to obtain legal status in Malaysia or to resettle in another country.

They claim they will be persecuted or killed if they returned to Burma, a Buddhist country whose government has been accused of ill-treating ethnic minorities.

When the Rohingyas refused to leave the compound Tuesday, the UNHCR called the police to escort them, and a Middle Eastern man who also sought political asylum, out. The refugee agency had previously denied him asylum.

The Malaysian police took the 19 people to a refugee camp outside the capital. They are likely to be deported.

In January, the UNHCR handed over 28 Rohingyas after rejecting their applications for asylum.

In a statement, the U.N. agency urged the Malaysian government to be sympathetic to the Rohingya migrants. The U.N. said they have suffered what it described as "tremendous human security problems due to their unclarified citizenship."

Thousands of Rohingyas fled from western Burma's Arakan state into neighboring Bangladesh several years ago to avoid persecution in the Buddhist nation.

More than 200,000 Rohingyas returned to Burma under UNHCR supervision in the mid-1990s. About 20,000 remain in Bangladesh, a Muslim nation. Several thousand Rohingyas are believed to be residing illegally in Malaysia, which is predominantly Muslim.

But the Malaysian government, which is concerned about crime caused by illegal immigrants, has toughened penalties for illegal immigration.