APRIL 23 — In the wake of a pandemic, Malaysians are seen to be anxious about predominantly health, safety and employment issues. The recent uproar in social media shows that there are growing concerns over the government’s effort in handling Rohingya refugees in Malaysia.
Just last week, it was reported that Malaysia had no choice but to deny entry of a boat carrying some 200 Rohingya refugees in order to contain the spread of Covid-19 domestically, leaving hundreds stranded at sea. As Malaysia is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention nor its Protocol, there are hardly any policy or legislative framework to regulate the status and well-being of refugees in the country. Thus, whether the authorities had made the right move in turning away these asylum-seekers remains debatable.
What about the Rohingya refugees that have settled in Malaysia?
As of February 2020, there are more than 100,000 Rohingyas registered in Malaysia according to UNHCR. It is reported that due to their status, many Rohingya refugees are reluctant to come forward to get tested for Covid-19, even if they display symptoms. In view of this issue, the Ministry of Health should be commended for working closely with UNHCR and other partner NGOs in order to track Covid-19 infections within the Rohingya community.
As for living conditions, we may look at the large group of Rohingya refugees living at Selayang under the EMCO. There are claims that there is no access to food as the Rohingya refugees are not eligible to food aid, neither from the Malaysian government nor the Myanmar embassy due to their status. They also remain as one of the most vulnerable groups due to living in cramped spaces, making social distancing impossible. Scarcity of food and a safe, hygienic environment would undeniably exacerbate the situation and possibly impact the containment of Covid-19.
By denying refugees basic rights to healthcare and employment, it could worsen their living conditions and have detrimental effects to Malaysia. With no access to basic needs, crime rates within the community, especially in theft and robbery is expected to rise, for the sake of survival.
Therefore, instead of pointing fingers and passing the blame, there must be a global and collective effort to resolve these challenges. Meanwhile, Malaysia must do our best, factoring in our resources and without jeopardising the needs of citizens, to formulate appropriate policies and mechanisms in managing the Rohingya refugee crisis, not just for the sake of safeguarding our country and its people, but for the sake of humanity.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.