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Burmese Refugees Seek Political Asylum in Malaysia - 2002-01-25

Several Burmese families have forced their way into a U.N. building in Malaysia seeking political asylum. They say they are fleeing repression in both Burma and Malaysia.

The group of 28 Burmese Friday morning forced its way past a guard at the offices of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Kuala Lumpur.

The group, which includes more than a dozen women and children, wants refugee status and permission to settle in a third country.

A spokesman for the group told local reporters that the families entered Malaysia illegally from Burma several years ago because of persecution by the government in Rangoon. They say Malaysian authorities have deported some family members and others have been detained in Burma.

Officials of the High Commissioner's office in Kuala Lumpur were unavailable for comment.

The asylum seekers say they are ethnic Rohinga, a Muslim group from the northwest state of Arakan. The Burmese government disputes their claim to Burmese nationality and has sought to move them into neighboring Bangladesh, which Burma says is their home.

A leader of the Muslim Youth Association of Burma, Thet Lwin Oo, says Burma's military government has been oppressing the Rohinga.

He says that since 1978, there have been numerous incidents of harsh treatment, including attacks on villages and on a mosque. Clashes have also been reported in recent years between Rohinga and ethnic Arakanese, long-time rivals in the area.

Burma's neighbors are pressuring illegal Burmese immigrants to go home, as ties with Rangoon have warmed in recent years. Neighboring governments say they want to encourage democratic reform in Burma in exchange for ending its international isolation.

The neighboring governments have sought help in cutting the number of Burmese illegal immigrants in their countries. Authorities have said they want to remove only those who enter illegally to seek work. Human rights groups, however, say many Burmese forced home end up in prison or forced labor.