I was downtown, near Petaling Street when I saw RELA rounding up immigrants into two trucks outside Sinar Kota, a shopping mall there. Some background information, Petaling Street/Sinar Kota has been a gathering point for immigrants during the weekend - so they go there in droves to hang out over the weekend.
Back to the raid - the immigrants were going in without a fight, no tussle of any sort but it was puzzling to see that they were just being randomly hauled into the RELA's 'black maria's for committing the terrible crime of walking on the street. They weren't even selling illegal DVDs or anything, by the roadside.
There were about 10 RELA members in uniform at the scene and even more
further down the road, stopping random immigrants, asking for their identification papers.What I do know:
RELA was probably rounding up the immigrants without proper documentation, travel/working permits - basically illegal immigrants. Whether or not the immigrants hauled into the truck were *actually* illegal is anyone's guess.What you may not know:
RELA stand for Ikatan Relawan Rakyat Malaysia (i.e. Malaysian Cititizens' Volunteer Civilian Corp.)
Established in 1972 due to the Emergency of the 1960s, RELA was a way for civilians to volunteer their services help the gov suss out Commies win the damn guerilla warfare btw the Commonwealth armed forces and the Malayan Communist Party.
Fast-forward 30 years later and RELA has branched into a larger, more established version of ye friendly-neighborhood Rukun Tetangga. Except that they have a uniform and in 2005, were given the authority to interrogate and arrest illegal immigrants in Malaysia and basically act as a support group for the government enforcement agencies.
Sounds like a pretty serious job, doesn't it? Probably stringent criteria to join this civilian volunteer corp then, eh?
According to the Ministry of Home Affair website
, to join RELA, you only have to be above 16 (women) and 17(men) and be a physically fit Malaysian Citizen.
Sounds a bit weighty for a normal civilian to take on? Seeing as how a number of RELA members are just part-time? Wonder more I can't seem to find it on the website that states who RELA is accountable to and if they answer to any higher government authority to provide that much needed check and balance for any enforcement body.
In fact, across the years, there have been numerous complaints of RELA members overstepping their jurisdiction and of course, not carrying out their
duties in a responsible manner:Human Rights Watch - Malaysia: Disband Abusive Volunteer Corp
Highlights from the article:
# On April 5, RELA members arrested some 20 Burmese refugees and asylum seekers at a market in downtown Kuala Lumpur. At least five had been recognized as refugees by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
# In late March, eight members of a RELA team removed belongings amounting to RM 1,800 (approximately US$525) from one dwelling. After police ascertained that at least two of those implicated had stolen before, the full team was detained on robbery charges.
# On March 8, a RELA officer detained an Indian immigrant with identification certifying his legal status. It took four days for the worker’s employer to obtain his release from a detention camp for illegal immigrants. When there's something strange in your neighbourhood... who're you gonna call?
So, if you managed to read through that summary of RELA's glorious and noble cause, this is what happened:
I saw them rounding up the immigrants and was pretty pissed but unsure if they had the authority to do so or not - so I decided to hit Dr. Yeoh with a call to check. If didn't have the jurisdiction, I was gonna call the cops on their ass. Quick call confirmed that they unfortunately, DO have authority to do so (my knowledge on immigration law a bit rusty after a year) but I decided that the best way would be to pull a camera on them and report them to the newspaper as a concerned citizen, etc etc.
That was when it went a bit pear-shaped. I went towards the trucks and sort of lost it. They weren't roughing the immigrants up, just want to set the record straight but they did drag a guy by the scruff of his neck into the truck and I was Just. So. Mad.
I remembered the stories the parents of the Burmese community I visited last year telling me how they used to huddle behind the door in fear when these RELA guys searched their flat building - refusing to come out because they were afraid of what would happen to them (they're all illegal aliens since Malaysia doesn't officially recognise refugees).
Serious human trafficking shit goes down when these illegal immigrants are hauled in and deported to the border. Suddenly they somehow never make it out of Malaysia and never see the Malaysian border because there are syndicates out there who buy them, pack them into car booths like sardines in a can and send you to work in God knows where.What I did:
So when I saw the ppl being herded into the truck, I got really *really* pissed. Which was a bad thing because before I knew it, I was walking right up to their faces with my camera and snapping away. They were telling me to stop and I was telling them that they had no right to stop me from taking pictures. It was madness.
People behind me were shouting and this RELA guy driving the truck had the gall to come out and flash his identification card at me - which I didn't see, unfortunately, because I was Blind. With. Rage.
And my parents?
Were absolutely freaking out.
They physically dragged me away to a corner.Dad & Mum: What are you doing!! Do you want them to arrest you? What if they smash the camera?
Me: They have NO RIGHT to take away my camera and have no reason to ARREST ME!
That's when I burst into tears. Loudly. In the middle of the very crowded sidewalk.
I just couldn't help it, I was so Angry. And angry!tears are the most ridiculous thing because they make you look so emotional and not in control but they absolutely cannot be helped.
The rest of the afternoon was pretty tense because to the 'rents, this came out totally out of the blue from me. They didn't have a clue about my brush with demonstration, which apparently stripped a bit of Fear of Authorities from me, which I didn't even realise. So we had an awful, awful row, which was about them not understanding, and me not helping them to understand that the raid was should not be acceptable to us.
So yea. A lot less crazed angry now and *sober* so can honestly say to anyone out there wanting to start a riot on any righteous account - Don't. Or at least, think really carefully about it first.
Crazy rushing in and provoking authorities, even those who are made of *civilian volunteers* is not a good idea because you immediately lose your ground. There are so much they can do so easily to turn the situation around and you'll just end up being the loser.
Always, always try to maintain a cool head. If they tell you to stop, try and negotiate but don't ever show that you're cowed or afraid of them. They get drunk on power like that. What I *did* do:
I sent a note to both Elizabeth Wong (State Assembly women for my area) and Sivarasa (my Member of Paliament) with the pics of the raid, stating the time, place, no. of ppl, etc and why I thought it was unacceptable. Sent an email to Malay Mail and the Sun. Who knows, they might cover it.
It may not help, since RELA do have the authority to haul in the immigrants' asses but the idea was to let people know that the Malaysian public don't think that this is acceptable - start a few questions - get ppl to ask what happens to those who get arrested.
Put it out there so RELA and the government feels the pressure to be held accountable for their actions and know
that just because they wear a uniform and carry firearms, they don't have the right to turn our country into a police state. ('Specially since, y'know, RELA is not even the police!!)
Outside Sinar Kota
What you lookin' at?
Hands over the camera lens