Malaysia – (warsoor) – Rights activists have welcomed remarks by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in which he refers to the targeting of Myanmar’s Rohingya as “genocide” and “institutionalised terrorism”, but have called on his government to reassess its own treatment of refugees.
“What took place were mass killings, systematic rape and other gross violations of human rights [that] resulted in Rohingya fleeing the country on masse,” Mahathir told a high-profile event on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, as he described violence against the community in Rakhine state by military forces and Buddhist extremists.
He slammed the Myanmar government, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, for being unwilling to take any action to “resolve the crisis” – and the United Nations for its “deafening” silence.
He also praised the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) for attempting to seek legal redress for the stateless Rohingya through the International Court of Justice, saying that other countries should support the OIC “to ensure that the perpetrators do not get away with the heinous crimes they have committed”.
“It is left up to us – the international community, to do something about the situation. For a start, the UN should play its role, taking into account that it was established in the hope of preventing future human-made miseries … Without Security Council action, others must do their part to resolve the crisis and bring perpetrators to justice,” Mahathir said.
He commended Bangladesh for hosting 1.2 million refugees and said Malaysia was committed to helping its own Rohingya community.
Among those present at the meeting organised by the OIC secretariat was Sheikh Hasina Wazed, the prime minister of Bangladesh.
Malaysia is home to 177,690 refugees and asylum seekers officially registered with the UN’s refugee agency, although the true figure including unregistered people is much higher. Of those officially registered, 97,750 are Rohingya. Several years ago, the government agreed to allow 3,000 Syrian refugees to enter and work in Malaysia to alleviate the global migration crisis.
In Malaysia, which is yet to ratify the UN Refugee Convention, refugees are unable to work, attend school, or access public health care. Complaints of police harassment are common, particularly from those waiting for official UNHCR cards legally confirming their status.
Many refugees turn to informal, low-skilled labour where they are vulnerable to physical and economic exploitation. Recently, a pilot project offered a few hundred Rohingya the opportunity to work on palm oil plantations, although few took up the offer as they were not allowed to bring their families with them.
Critics have rounded on such problems, with activists insisting Malaysia has a humanitarian obligation to “provide basic necessities and protection”.
“As we call on international communities to support refugee communities in Malaysia, let’s also look at our own resources to support them. We can make a difference in providing a safe space, the right to work, and formal education – an inalienable right,” said Glorene Das, director at local NGO Tenaganita, which protects the rights of women, migrants and refugees.
Glorene said the non-interference policy of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had only made matters worse.
“While we speak at the UN and among international communities, we also have an obligation to do so on the Asean platform. As a member of Asean we must continue to question Myanmar, and if they do not prioritise seeking solutions we must demand they leave the bloc. Trade agreements cannot be the only motivator for Asean – we must put people before profits.”
Mahathir’s remarks come amid an impasse in the crisis, said Lilianne Fan, chairwoman of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network’s Rohingya working group. She said Bangladesh, which hosts the majority of Rohingya refugees, was “increasingly frustrated with the lack of tangible action on the Myanmar side”.
“It is also excellent that Mahathir mentioned Malaysia’s commitment to assist Rohingya refugees in our territory. The national framework for refugees is, indeed, being developed by the government at the moment.”
Described by the UN as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, the Rohingya are not recognised by Myanmar and have been systematically driven out of the country into neighbouring Bangladesh. In military-led ethnic cleansing operations against the community, hundreds of thousands have been killed, tortured, injured, raped or displaced – and villages razed to the ground.
Source: South Chine Morning Post