Although Malaysia has long offered refuge to persecuted Muslim populations, Malaysian law does not distinguish between asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants. As a consequence, refugees experience high levels of legal precarity, severely limiting access to healthcare, employment, and educational opportunities. Immigration police frequently raid businesses in search of undocumented workers, and children are frequently pushed into work because of an educational system with limited resources to accommodate them. While more than 164,000 refugees in Malaysia are officially registered with the UN Refugee Agency, many more languish in the long registration queue. Today, activists are working to pressure the recently installed government to become a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol to improve protections and access to opportunity for those seeking life and livelihood in the wake of war and persecution.
North Korea and Malaysia institute exit bans on each other’s citizens
North Korea’s frustration at Malaysia’s handling of the investigation into the murder of the half-brother of leader Kim Jong Un led to the announcement of a ban on the departure of Malaysian nationals from the country.
Malaysian PM Najib Razak responded by initially banning the departure of North Korean diplomatic staff before extending it to all North Koreans.
Two people—an Indonesian woman and a Vietnamese woman—have been charged in the homicide, though they claim they believed to have been taking part in a prank.
Popular Malaysian political cartoonist detained for work critical of PM
Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, also known as Zunar, faces charges for cartoons allegedly insulting scandal-embroiled Prime Minister Najib Razak, the latest in a series of sedition charges he faces.
Zunar’s work has satirized Najib’s lavish lifestyle and the scandal involving the alleged diversion of hundreds of millions of dollars from a Malaysian development fund into the PM’s personal bank account, which has led to Najib’s use of a colonial-era sedition law to quell critics’ dissent.
The detention came after the disruption of Zunar’s exhibition at the George Town Literary Festival, where Penang Umno Youth members stormed the festival and demanded the removal of his work.
One of the few truly global holidays, International Workers’ Day (May Day) is both a worldwide celebration of the working classes as well as a day to draw attention to ongoing insecurities workers around the world face. May Day has historically had a twofold purpose: a day for workers to voice their concerns over contentious labor policies and for governments to reaffirm their commitments to workers’ rights and just labor practices. At times little more than public relations campaigns and at others violent clashes between governments and workers, global May Day events have highlighted the diverse relationships between labor, employers, and government around the world. Here are the highlights of May Day 2016 in more than 30 countries:
Bike rallies were held in Pune as Indian PM Narendra Modi saluted workers on Antarrashtriya Shramik Diwas, a public holiday. Pakistan‘s major labor unions convened in Lahore to speak out against poor working conditions, violations of international labor conventions, and ongoing privatization in the country. As Bangladeshi officials addressed labor relations and welfare reforms amidst a day of union-organized programming, in Kathmandu, Nepali workers marched while awaiting the ratification of the Labour Act, which guarantees greater social security for workers. Across the Indian Ocean, Australian union leader singled out penalty rate protection and tax reform as major Labour Day issues, with the date of the holiday having been a point of contention as well.
In cities across France, tens of thousands marched in protest against proposed labor reforms that would loosen the country’s controversial employment and job security policies. Jeremy Corbyn became the first U.K. Labour party leader to attend a May Day rally in a half-century when he spoke to a crowd of thousands in London, reaffirming solidarity against anti-immigrant sentiment and addressing anti-Semitism accusations that have plagued his party recently. Spain saw thousands across its cities gather, many protesting ongoing austerity measures. An estimated 800,000 gathered in Rome‘s San Giovanni Square, with this year’s event dedicated to slain Italian student Giulio Regeni.
Some 2,000 convened in rain-soaked Zagreb to hear labor leaders protest the increased retirement age and ongoing poverty in Croatia. Moscow hosted a mass demonstration in the city’s Red Square estimated in size from the tens of thousands to 100,000, while thousands gathered in Istanbul’s Bakirköy district under a heavy police presence in the wake of urban suicide attacks and ongoing violence across Turkey.
From New York to Los Angeles, demonstrations in the U.S. highlighted widening economic inequality in the country and an election season marred by racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic sentiment. While most protests took place without incident, a peaceful march turned violent in Seattle, leading to five injured officers and nine arrests. A similar outbreak in Montreal led to one injury and 10 arrests.
In Latin America, Brazil‘s embattled president and Workers’ Party leader Dilma Roussef rallied alongside hundreds of thousands across the country as her impeachment proceedings continue and workers fear the inauguration of her center-right vice president. Cuba‘s May Day parade continued the national tradition of expressing support for the Castro regime rather than directly celebrating labor or expressing concerns over labor conditions. In Argentina, President Mauricio Macro backed employers and touted labor proposals that had spurred mass demonstrations only days before. Elsewhere in the region, minimum wage increases were announced in Venezuela and Bolivia and a march took place in Santiago as Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced a review of her labor reforms after the Supreme Court rejected a key provision granting exclusive negotiating rights to unions.
Middle East & Africa
Police in Egyptblocked hundreds of workers from assembling in a Cairo office as labor leaders and international organizations called for the government to decriminalize independent union organization. In Israel, more than 5,000 youth marched in Tel Aviv, while a Palestinian trade union renewed its call for the establishment of a minimum wage and the dismantlement of the Gaza blockade. A government-sponsored event in Dubai reportedly drew nearly 200 workers, though labor practices in the UAE continue to draw international scrutiny.
South of the Sahara, events popped up across South Africa as politicians sought to address the country’s high unemployment rate and appeal to workers ahead of August elections. In Nigeria, President Mohammadu Buhari spoke to thousands of workers in Abuja, touting his anti-corruption campaign. A Mozambique labor leader addressed a crowd in Maputo about the debts of state-owned companies and the need for wage and workplace reform. As the decline of oil prices has created economic hardship throughout Angola, the country’s two labor unions marched to draw attention to deteriorating worker conditions and the need for infrastructure maintenance. Workers in Ghana protested the privatization of the management of the state-owned Electric Company of Ghana, while the government insisted the company was still run by the state. Meanwhile, Ethiopia sidestepped Sunday commemorations altogether by moving May Day to May 3, when labor leaders plan to highlight ongoing struggles to organize Ethiopian workers.
Malaysian film banned for LGBT and government-mocking storylines
Banglasia, directed by Malaysian YouTube star Namewee, was banned by the government for “mocking national security issues” and highlighting “negative sociocultural lifestyles such as lesbian gay bisexual transgender (LGBT).”
The film focuses on a diverse group of people overcoming their differences and took comedic aim at controversial political events from Malaysia’s history.
A Kickstarter campaign to recoup lost finances and secure an Internet release for the film stalled.
Pro-Malay, pro-government rally targets ethnic Chinese and Indian Malaysians
Thousands of Malays took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur, drawing fire from police water cannons after voicing anti-Chinese and anti-Indian sentiment and trying to break through barricades to the city’s Chinatown.
The demonstration took place in support of embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has lost support from most of the ethnic minority communities after coming under fire for allegedly embezzling $700 million.
Malays make up 60% of Malaysian society, with ethnic Chinese comprising 25% and ethnic Indians 10%.
“I am here to defend Malay dignity and dominance. … We must not let others take over our country.”
A Forked Path for Rohingya Women, with Both Roads Leading to Hell
Trapped in a desperate situation compounded by their gender, Rohingya women–already facing persecution as a Muslim ethnic group in Myanmar–find themselves forced into either marriage or prostitution by human traffickers in Southeast Asia. The New York Times profiles one of their stories and the efforts of one advocate to bring light to the issue.
Malaysian court fines nine and sentences two trans women to jail for “cross-dressing”
The group of women were arrested in Kelantan, one of the 13 of Malaysia’s 14 states that criminalizes cross-dressing.
The lawyer representing the group has filed an appeal, and the two jailed have been released on bail.
“Laws against ‘a male person posing as a woman’ not only deny transgender women in Malaysia our fundamental rights as citizens of the country, they also contribute to a hostile environment. … These laws lead people to perceive us as criminals and subject us to humiliation, hate crimes, and other forms of violence.”
The NY Times has published a graphically enhanced look at the global migration crisis that is being called the worst since World War II
38 million have been displaced within their own countries, while 16.7 million refugees have fled internationally.
Roughly 11 million Syrians and 3 million Iraqis have been internally displaced, while 4 million Syrians have left the country, straining the intake abilities of neighboring countries like Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.
Approximately 25,000 Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants have been trafficked via sea in Southeast Asia, some finding conditional acceptance in Indonesia and Malaysia and others being repatriated.
To date, around 78,000 have traveled across the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa and Turkey, fleeing violence, persecution, and poor economic prospects in North, West, and East Africa.
Finally, the conflict in Ukraine has displaced 1.3 million inside the country and sent 867,000 abroad, mostly to Russia with few European countries willing to accept them.
Protests in Saudi Arabia following the anti-Shiite suicide bombing, assisted suicide debates in the U.K., Myanmar’s anti-Rohingya protests, Russia’s community for parents and their gay children, immigration reform’s stumble in the U.S., Dubai’s motorcycle women, and 45 other stories in this week’s news rounds…Continue reading The Mid-week Rounds→