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Friday, August 23, 2019

UN rep calls out Kelantan officials for ‘outrageous’ attitude towards Orang Asli



A UN envoy has criticised the highhanded and outdated attitudes by Kelantan government officials towards the Orang Asli.
Following his working visit to Malaysia to study poverty, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston recounted his experience visiting the state during a press conference today.
“I visited Kelantan and encountered attitudes on the part of government there which frankly, I would have expected in 19th century Australia rather than 21st century Malaysia.
“(Attitudes that said) these people essentially need to be brought into the modern era, they need to get off their traditional lands, come in and live in concrete huts in the city and then they will be well off.

“But of course, indigenous existence is dependent on land and dependent on traditional lifestyles,” Alston said in Kuala Lumpur.
He said the Temiar Orang Asli he met said they were not poor and were content with their way of life as long as they could access their customary land.
However, he said state officials had shared with him their plans to relocate the Orang Asli from their villages to some 1,800 concrete housing units in urban centres.
“That is the most outrageous response to the demands of the indigenous people. And this was coupled with an insistence on the part of the government that there was no such thing as customary land rights,” he said.
Alston spent the past 11 days meeting with government officials as well as various communities, activists and academics in all states.
His experience, coupled with several months of research and calls for submissions by his team, was condensed into a preliminary report and presented today.
Among his findings with regards to the Orang Asli was that they suffered the highest overall poverty rates in the country - 31.16 percent in 2010 - and this was often “obscured” by official statistics.
“(The data) aggregates outcomes for indigenous peoples and (the) Malays in the umbrella category of bumiputera,” the report read.
It recommended better protection for Orang Asli customary land rights and more effective access to quality health and education facilities for that demographic.
Poverty and vulnerability
Alston’s report also looked into how poverty affected children and found existing social welfare programmes inadequate. It quoted World Bank statistics that found one in five Malaysian children stunted and raised concerns about malnutrition.
As for stateless persons, it noted that the lack of government data on official numbers obscured their vulnerability.
“The exclusion of undocumented and stateless families from a wide range of social services places them at an elevated risk of poverty, while their absence from official datasets makes the extent of their vulnerability almost impossible to assess,” the report read.
The report similarly questioned the lack of official statistics for the number of undocumented migrant workers and thus their exclusion from official poverty figures.
This was significant due to concerns of wage theft and exploitation by employers plus the workers’ unwillingness to report these crimes due to constant fears of being deported.
The workers, including documented and domestic workers, were also excluded from affordable public healthcare as they had to pay higher “foreigner” rates.
Refugees in Malaysia have no legal status and the report noted this deprived the vulnerable group of work as well as affordable healthcare and education. This increased their economic hardship, it said.
Alston’s full report is slated to be presented before the UN Human Rights Council Geneva in June 2020.  - Mkini

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