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Rohingya Refugees Face Envy And Fear In Malaysia

Rohingya Refugees Face Envy And Fear In Malaysia

Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority group who fled religious persecution in Myanmar.

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Why does the public dislike the Rohingyas, compared to other refugees in Malaysia, such as Palestinians and Uyghurs?

The common answer is that the Rohingyas have become too much annoying, and some Malaysians feel they’ve started disobeying the country’s laws.

The dislike is also due to Rohingyas having created their ‘colonies’ spread throughout Kuala Lumpur.

It made the city’s scenery ‘ugly’ with refugees begging and sometimes threatening the public to give them money.

As of end January 2023, there are some 183,790 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia.

Some 158,160 are from Myanmar, comprising some 106,500 Rohingyas.

Reception And Rejection Of Rohingya Refugees In Malaysia

Dr Hoo Chiew-Ping, a Senior Lecturer in Strategic Studies and International Relations at the National University of Malaysia (UKM), said at the beginning, there was sympathy towards Rohingya people as they are prosecuted as Muslims.

Dr Hoo Chiew-Ping. (Source: Flickr)

Later, after settling in Malaysia, some Rohingya communities gained a bad rep as unwelcomed displaced people due to their aggressive and unfriendly behaviours.

The misconception is further exaggerated in local social media, depicting them as ungrateful illegal migrants.

In contrast, the Palestinians do not arrive in Malaysia en mass which creates the same optic as the Rohingya people. The general Malaysian public is also not aware that the Government of Malaysia repatriates Uyghur asylum seekers who entered Malaysia illegally through Thailand back to China to face prosecution.

UKM Senior Lecturer Dr Hoo Chiew-Ping to TRP on the different attidudes by the public towards refugees in Malaysia.

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In other words, even though they are all refugees and displaced people, their respective circumstances result in different perceptions and treatment by the Malaysian public.

It is also largely due to the greater number of organizations and NGOs that have been sympathetic and contributing to the Palestinian cause for many decades.

READ MORE: Malaysian NGOs Launch Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, Condemn Israel’s Attack On The Al-Aqsa Mosque

Dr Hoo noted that the Palestinians are recognized as nationalists represented by their legitimate government and part of the Muslim Brotherhood in the ummah’s struggle against the Zionists.

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Should Malaysia Deport Rohingyas?

Dr Hoo explained that Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Thus, Malaysia is not liable for taking the Rohingya refugees under government care.

The cost of managing and providing for the Rohingya refugee at the detention centres is often cited by governmental officials and enforcement agencies as the reason for forced deportations.

READ MORE: [Watch] Man Angrily Confronts Rohingya Taking Over Selayang Market

They said it is taking up governmental resources to implement other enforcement activities.

However, Malaysia has succumbed to international calls to accept the incoming Rohingya refugees at sea due to the risks to their lives if abandoned at sea.

The Rohingya people registered with the UNHCR office in Malaysia are eligible for 3D jobs to make ends meet while awaiting arrangements to be transitioned or moved to other countries that recognize their status.

UKM Senior Lecturer Dr Hoo Chiew-Ping to TRP on Rohingyas earning their keep while seeking refuge.

Dr Hoo surmised that the Malaysian government had done its absolute best to comply with the humanitarian treatment of displaced people without formal recognition of the refugee convention.

What Else Can Malaysia Do With The Rohingyas?

Dr Hoo, who is also a lecturer in Strategy and Diplomacy Programme at UKM and Adjunct Lecturer in Defence Studies at the Malaysian Armed Forces Defence College (MAFDC), said there are several options, including:

  • Signing and ratifying the refugee convention.
  • Working with foreign governments that accept refugees to expedite the relocation of Rohingya people arriving in Malaysia.
  • The ongoing efforts include coordination with various humanitarian and local NGOs to provide for the Rohingya people to ensure they do not burden the government and societies where they set up their communities;
  • The ongoing aid to the Cox Bazaar in Bangladesh to accommodate displaced Rohingya people from Myanmar.
Malaysia hosts the most Rohingyas after Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. (Source: Anadolu/2019)

 A Long History Of Discrimination

Meanwhile, human rights advocate Datuk Ahmad Azam Ab Rahman said the main issue on Rohingya is the Citizenship Law 1982.

The law perpetuates the Rohingya citizenship crisis by denying Burmese citizenship to children born to those considered non-citizens.

Ahmad Azam, Commissioner to the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said it disqualifies them as citizens.

The ones that came to Malaysia are a lost generation. They have been denied education, work and health since then. What do you expect from them?

IPHRC Commissioner Datuk Ahmad Azam Ab Rahman to TRP on the misfortune that surrounds the Rohingyas.

He acknowledged that their presence in Malaysia is a culture shock to them and also to Malaysians as well.

Ahmad Azam, who is also Special Advisor on Afghanistan to Foreign Minister (Sept 2021-Sept 2022), added that the Rohingya coming to Malaysia is not their choice but due to the ethnic cleansing policy of the Myanmar government.

IPHRC Commissioner Datuk Ahmad Azam Ab Rahman. (Pix: IPHRC)

On the change of heart of Malaysians, he said it started during Covid-19 when scarcity of foods resulted in social jealousy between Malaysians and the Rohingyas.

The role of social media compounded racial hatred.

Living With Fear And Uncertainty

The Asia-Pacific Refugee Rights Network’s Rohingya Working Group said there are a number of reasons for the xenophobia against Rohingya.

Its chairperson, Lillianne Fan, said they can all be linked back to Malaysia’s lack of a refugee policy.

Firstly, during the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a highly orchestrated online hate speech campaign against Rohingya refugees that depicted them in very negative and demeaning ways.

It deliberately portrayed them as an aggressive, uncivilised and ungrateful population.

Such hate campaigns against any community should have been immediately stopped by the government.

On the ground, the sentiment about Rohingya refugees is a bit more nuanced, and while it is true that there are frustrations these are mainly around very specific localised issues such as:

  • Neighbourhood hygiene issues.
  • Riding motorcycles without helmets.
  • Working informally without proper regulations.
  • Concerns with Rohingya children not being in school.
  • The lack of interaction and communication between local and Rohingya refugee communities.

If we analyse these issues, they are actually a result of lack of refugee policy, the lack of cultural orientation programmes for refugees and a lack of structured communication channels between Rohingya communities.

Asia-Pacific Refugee Rights Network’s Rohingya Working Group chair Lillianne Fan to TRP on the plight surrounding the Rohingya.

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