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29 September 2020 / 11 Safar 1442


Maritime Security Operations (MASO) 2020 Webinar

Author :Pusat Undang-Undang Ketenteraan & Kemanusiaan Antarabangsa Friday, 28 Aug 2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world in 2020, it created new and unprecedented challenges for States, compelling governments to take increasingly stringent measures restricting the mobility of people across borders, including at maritime entry points. In Malaysia, for example, boats ferrying migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh/Myanmar were intercepted and turned away at sea. Those who reached the country shores were placed under quarantine and in temporary detention.

The boat pushbacks sparked reactions from civil society and international aid organisations. Concerns were raised on the effects such a policy would have on migrants at sea, human security, as well as on the issue of missing persons. The humanitarian position is that the pandemic should not lead to the loss of access to international protection for migrants; individual circumstances need to be assessed and appropriate attention given to the vulnerable, such as unaccompanied children, sick and injured, and trafficked persons.

These concerns put maritime security and the national COVID-19 response plan in the spotlight. With many diverging views, the issue has become a highly polarised topic. But balancing between public health needs and humanitarian imperatives is not a zero-sum game. It raises the need for all actors to come to the discussion table to unpack their respective concerns; understand the powers of the State in the protection of its citizens during the pandemic, as well as their obligations under national and international law; explore avenues for inter-agency cooperation; and provide tangible solutions to translate these discussions into operational practice.

The Maritime Security Operations (MASO) 2020 workshop held from August 25 to 27, 2020, was organised to facilitate these important discussions.

Organised by the Centre for Military & International Humanitarian Law (CoMIHL) at the National Defence University of Malaysia (NDUM) and supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the event titled “COVID-19: Balancing Border Security Needs with Humanitarian Concerns” offered an opportunity for high-level government officials, policymakers and law enforcement personnel; representatives of local and international humanitarian aid organisations; and members of academia to exchange their views in a neutral, academic setting.

Among others, the objectives of the workshop are to raise awareness on the appropriate steps to address issues of humanitarian concern when protecting state borders during the pandemic and to enhance understanding on the provision of assistance to all persons in need, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity and religious following.

Held at the NDUM Sungai Besi campus in Kuala Lumpur, MASO 2020 kicked off with a two-day workshop on August 25 and 26, and culminated today (August 27) in a panel discussion entitled, “Safety of Life at Sea: When border security meets humanitarian needs”, which was livestreamed for online participants.

“The movement of refugee populations and unauthorised arrival of asylum seekers are not merely matters of humanitarian concern or national security. They expose the complexity and contradiction of modern nation-state and demonstrate the competing political, economic and humanitarian values associated with the management of international migration. Most of the time, humanitarian migration has been constructed as a security threat to receiving states.

“State security concerns are reflected by the concepts of burden-sharing and national security exemption, while humanitarian basis rests on the principle of non-refoulment, non-punishment and fair adjudication on claims,” said YBhg. Prof. Emeritus Dato Dr. Tengku Mohd bin Tengku Sembok, NDUM Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic and International), representing Lt Jen Datuk Haji Abdul Halim bin Haji Jalal, NDUM Vice Chancellor in his welcome remarks at the opening of the panel discussion today.

“This seminar is timely to see humanitarian concerns through the lens of securitisation or vice versa. The workshop provides an academic forum so that everybody will understand what angle international organisation is coming in and the international organisation need to understand what Malaysia sovereignty and control of her borders are all about. So we balance the government aspiration with the international organisations commitment,” he added.

The panel discussion featured speakers from the NSC, MoH, UNHCR and the ICRC, while those tuning in online, including the media, were given the opportunity to raise questions.

The two-day workshop was attended by mid- to- senior- level officers responsible for maritime security operations Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) and the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM), officers at the policy level in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs officers, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Health and the Immigration Department, as well as academics. Speakers included high-level representatives from the National Security Council (NSC), the RMN, MMEA, CoMIHL, Immigration Department, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), Ministry of Health (MoH) and the ICRC.

During the sessions, government authorities explained maritime security in Malaysia and immigration policy on detention and deportation during the pandemic, as well as the challenges faced by their enforcement officers in the line of duty. Humanitarian actors meanwhile provided their respective views on the issue and outlined state obligations to international humanitarian and human rights laws where it concerns migration.

“Oftentimes, these issues are played out in the public and can lead to misunderstanding. This can be counterproductive, especially when we are facing a pandemic that requires cooperation and understanding from all sides.

“Understanding the concerns of the State, particularly during times of crisis, what we do at the ICRC is support the authorities in fulfilling their obligations to protect and assist persons in distress. MASO 2020 offered us a platform to discuss this,” said Ms. Biljana Milosevic, Head of the ICRC Kuala Lumpur Regional Delegation.

Established on August 24, 2017, CoMIHL is a collaborative effort between the NDUM and the ICRC. Located within the campus of NDUM, the centre is set up to promote and disseminate Military and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) among the Malaysian Armed Forces and the region wider military and legal communities.

Last Edited : Friday, 28 Aug 2020