What has happened to Malaysia’s support for the Rohingya?
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What has happened to Malaysia’s support for the Rohingya?

I AM a big advocate of open borders because I believe migration is – or should be – a universal human right.

Point is, the world doesn’t belong to any one person or persons. And centuries ago, that’s what people did – they navigated the world to find the best living conditions.

After all, if we’re constantly arguing against discrimination of skin colour, ethnicity, religious belief or culture, then why should it be okay to judge or discriminate a person based on his or her country of origin?

Last week, over a thousand Rohingya refugees in Malaysia converged at the Burmese (Myanmar) embassy in the Kuala Lumpur capital to protest the atrocities allegedly committed by their government against their people.

SEE ALSO: Rohingya protesters rally near Burma embassy in Malaysia

The Rohingya crisis in Southeast Asia has been ongoing for decades and has led to hundreds of thousands fleeing Burma to seek safe havens across the border in neighbouring Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

So when they heard of the protest by the Malaysian Consultative Council of Islamic Organisations (Mapim) and Pas Humanitarian Affair & Relief Centre (PasRelief), the Rohingya in Malaysia arrived in droves to participate.

As their numbers grew, however, police arrived to stop the protest. Around 155 were eventually arrested.

And this irks me because it was just last year when the Malaysian government showed their support for the Rohingya.

If you remember, last December, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak and a few of his Cabinet members protested loudly against the Burmese government’s handling of the Rohingya crisis.

They even organised a rally at a football stadium where each leader took turns making rousing speeches on human rights and how Malaysia planned to ramp up pressure on the Burmese government. It was quite a big show, with the stadium packed to the rafters with supporters.


Thousands attended the pro-Rohingya protest organised by the Malaysian government last year. Source: AP

Why a sitting prime minister chose to organise a protest to express his displeasure at a global issue is beyond my understanding. After all, he has the diplomatic channels to actually do something about it. But that is a separate discussion for another day.

My question today is: what has happened since then?

Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said he would look into taking diplomatic action against Burma after its government blocked UN investigators from entering Rakhine State to investigate the alleged persecution of the Rohingya.

Considering these developments, why is the Malaysian government now cracking down on a protest by the very people they claim to support? Have they changed their minds? Are they going back on their own pledges of support?

And if the Malaysian government feels so strongly for the Rohingya, why isn’t Malaysia a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention? Not being a signatory means Malaysia doesn’t recognise refugees. They are all seen as illegal immigrants who will be detained and deported.

SEE ALSO: Malaysians will protest Rohingyan plight with rage, then they forget

As much as governments want to say an influx of people into controlled borders will cause harm such as the robbing of jobs from locals, negative social issues and contamination of culture, evidence has proven otherwise.

Economists have shown when migrant workers come in, they help the economy of the host country in the form of spending and taxes. Of course, they help their own home country, too, because they send money back.

The belief migrant workers take jobs away from locals isn’t true, too. What they do is create healthy competition, which can only help to increase the skill sets of our own countrymen. In fact, migrant workers and locals can even complement each other.

So we should stop the xenophobia and be more human. Everyone has a right to live in safe conditions, be able to support their family and feel free from fear and persecution.

For the Rohingya, perhaps they see Malaysia as a place where they can turn that dream into reality. Let’s not take that away from them.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent