APRIL 23 — The coronavirus pandemic has brought about a difficult situation for many countries that are currently battling to ensure the health and wellbeing of its people. Malaysia, which is in the 3rd Phase of its movement control order, is not spared from this vicious virus that has permanently change our usual norms.
In the wake of these troubling times, we cannot afford to lose sight of some of the most vulnerable groups of people, the refugees and asylum seekers. Reading with sadness the decision of the Malaysian government to turn away a boat carrying some 200 Rohingya refugees citing the fear of opening floodgates especially in a time where the government is aggressively fighting to break the spread of Covid-19 in the country, brings the issue of the protection of these vulnerable groups to the forefront.
It is undeniable that the Malaysian government owes a primary duty to ensure the wellbeing of its own people. These are the many opinions that have been made on social media recently. Some going as far to create online petitions to “expel the Rohingya refugees from our sovereign soil”. There is fear that by accepting more refugees there will be a drain on resources and worst, importation of new clusters of Covid-19. These fears to some extent are justified but hate and xenophobia has no place when there is a vital need to strike a proper balance, especially when this balance could mean the safety and wellbeing of the refugees.
It has been pointed out that Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, however, Malaysia should observe international customary law and norms. The choices we make now will shape the state of our humanity and our continuous efforts to highlight the plight of the Rohingyas and hopefully work towards a more sustainable solution for the refuge crisis.
We Malaysians, used to be a kinder bunch, when the boat people of South Vietnam were escaping the communist takeover, we welcomed them, provided medical assistance, and gave them hope. Like Ho Chi Minh’s revolution, this pandemic puts us on a diverging road. Do we Malaysians embrace our charitable kindness like before and go down the well-trodden route? Or do we cast the dust off our feet and ignore the plight of the Rohingyan refugees. For the sake of our country, I hope it is the former. But the Malaysian government should not take up this fight alone. A conscious effort must be made by government agencies to engage with current established NGOs and refugee organisations that are ever willing and equipped to assist and aid with the intake of these refugees.
Pandemics do not discriminate irrespective of age, ethnicity, religion, gender, or nationality. This fight against Covid-19 is far from being over but I am certain that it is a fight that humankind will win. But let history show that while fighting Covid-19, we did so without forgetting to be compassionate and humane.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.