LAST_UPDATEFri, 20 Jul 2018 12pm

Over 200K Rohingya Refugees In M'sia, Are We Putting Refugees Needs Ahead Of Our Own?

Last week, the Malaysian government announced their intention to help Rohingya refugees who are fleeing the conflict in Rakhine by opening up the country's borders to allow them in.

And it is a commendable action by the government, because as of the time of writing, the Rakhine issue seems endless, and no real solution is at hand as of yet. But just because it is a commendable action, does not mean that the move by the government will not have any serious repercussions.

Deputy Home Minister, Nur Jazlan Mohamed, cautioned that Malaysia should be wary of the Rohingya militants who might be taking advantage of Malaysia’s goodwill and use the crisis as a window of opportunity to enter the country.

Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed.Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed.

"We also have to be cautious. Although we are willing to accept the Rohingya refugees on humanitarian grounds, but the huge number can be worrying to us on the possibility that some of them may be sympathisers of the militants who are active in their country,” he told reporters.

And it’s not only the militants that raises concern about the growing influx of Rohingya refugees.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are some 149,100 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia as of August 2017 with 132,100 originating from Myanmar.  

However, other non-governmental organisations have estimated a total of 200,000 Rohingya refugees in the country, The Straits Times reports.

Some Malaysians, particularly the ones with more nationalistic views have reacted with alarm at the continued influx of refugees into Malaysia, and some of the issues raised were regarding the burden it will place on Malaysians to ensure that the welfare of the refugees were being met, and of course, if they are able to assimilate to the Malaysian way of living.

After all, there have been noteworthy incidents concerning the Rohingyas in Malaysia before. Most recently, 44 ethnic Rohingya were arrested by the Malaysian police last August after holding an illegal protest gathering in front of the Myanmar embassy.

And a few days after that, several Malaysians took to internet forums to voice out complains of how the refugees are taking over certain areas like Selayang and making themselves at home amidst unsanitary and unhealthy living condiitions.

Which is not a surprise when Salam Rohingya, a non-governmental organization claimed that they have been asked “Why do are they going to such great lengths to protect an uncouth ethnic group like the Rohingya”?

And this raises an interesting conundrum in the the Rohingya dilemma, if Malaysia keeps on taking on the Rohingya refugees, how will Malaysians be affected?

Which is why we at Malaysian Digest decided to talk to individuals who are closer to the issue and familiarl with the plight of the Rohingyas.

“In A Crisis, We Cannot Look At The Benefits That We Can Get From Helping”

Rohingya refugees holding a protest in front of Tabung HajiRohingya refugees holding a protest in front of Tabung Haji

One of the main issues raised by nationalists regarding the influx of the Rohingya refugees, is how can they contribute to Malaysia?

After all, if they are staying in Malaysia they surely will take up precious resources and space in the country at the expense of Malaysians, so it’s a fair question isn’t it?

But according to Jerald Joseph, a Commissioner for SUHAKAM (Human Rights Commission of Malaysia), that way of looking at the Rohingya situation is flawed.

Jerald JosephJerald JosephJerald explained that the situation faced by the Rohingya can now be labelled a crisis, and we should not be looking at how Malaysia will benefit from taking them in.

“ What the Rohingya is facing in their own country right now is a crisis. And in a crisis, we cannot look at the benefits that we can get from helping.

“For now, we are helping the Rohingya because it is the right thing to do, not because it can benefit us in anyway,” said the commissioner.

Jerald also pointed out that it is true that it will burden Malaysia in some ways especially in education and healthcare, but this is where international communities need to play their roles, in helping Malaysia to take care of the refugees.

“This is where the United Nations (UN) and Asean needs to play their roles. As a short term measure, Malaysia can provide refuge for the Rohingya, but at the same time a solution needs to be worked out among the countries so that the future of the Rohingya can be ascertained,” said Jerald.

When speaking about the Rohingya issue in Malaysia, most Malaysian might be forgiven for thinking that it is something fairly recent, when it is actually not.

The first known military crackdown faced by the Rohingya actually happened back in 1978. And from the periods of 1991-1992, the Rohingya again faced military action in their own country.

And this is a fact that Jerald would like to point out at most Malaysians, that it is not a new issue.

“It has been going on for years actually. There is quite a history behind the Rohingya’s search for refuge, and it is an continous issue.

“The reason people are making an issue out of it now is that because the Malaysia government is now very open and vocal about their support of the Rohingya people,” said Jerald.

According to statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), so far there are 56,000 registered Rohingya refugees in Malaysia. But Jerald said that this doesn’t reflect the true numbers, because most of them might not be registered.

If Properly Registered, Rohingya Can Also Contribute To The Economy

Which again, raises questions. If the number of the refugees in Malaysia is that high, can Malaysia afford to take care of their welfare?

And this, according to Jerald highlights the importance of having them properly registered, so that they can contribute to the Malaysian economy.

“When they are properly registered, they can look for a proper job, then they will be able to contribute to the economy as well.

“Malaysia is always in need of workers, as indicated by the amount of migrant workers in Malaysia right now. So we should properly register all the Rohingya in Malaysia, so that they can look for a decent job for them to make a living,” Jerald pointed out.

But this also raises another question, if they are living and earning in Malaysia, won’t they be staying here in Malaysia for good then?

Jerald does not seem to think so, however. He believes that almost every human has that innate desire to return home.

“Only some of them will have the desire to turn their stay here permanent. Because although they might be able to earn a living here, their living conditions here are still undesirable.

“For example, their children will be considered stateless here, they will have to go through the process to apply for permanent residence here. So I believe that most of them will want to go back to their own country,” said Jerald.

So with the insight from Jerald, we now know that the Rohingya can be productive to our country, which means that they can be contributors to the economy as well.

But although they might be able to contribute to the economy, how about their assimilation to the country? Sure, the can work and make a living, but how well can they fit themselves to the Malaysian way of living?

After all, there have been complaints on various social media about them. People are saying that the way they live are unsanitary, unhealthy, dirty, and disrespectful of others.

But how true is this? For this, we decided to talk to someone who has experience working with Rohingya people.

“A Few Of Them That Are Very Disruptive, But I Think That It’s Unfair To Label All Of Them”

So first we spoke with Hassan Haniff, 35, a fishmonger who plies his trade in the Pasar Borong Selayang.

Selayang is one of the places that records the highest number of Rohingya settlers, and most of them have found their calling working in the market.

Hasssan admitted, that he has heard of the stories regarding the Rohingya behaviour before.

“Of course, I read it as well on the internet. People were saying that the Rohingya were dirtying up the market, and the neighborhood that they live in,” said Hassan.

However, Hassan said that in his 5 years working alongside people from Rohingya, he believes that it’s not fair to blame all Rohingya for a few bad apples.

“No, I don’t think that every one of them is like that. There are a few of them that are very disruptive, but I think that it’s unfair to label all of them disruptive just because of the actions of a few,” said Hassan.

In fact, Hassan revealed that he hired a couple of Rohingya workers before, to help him with his shop.

“While they were still working with me, they were exemplary workers. They were always early, never talked back, always eager to help.

“It was a shame that I could not hold on to them, as they were really good workers,” said Hassan.

But then how about their way of living, that is said unsanitary?

“I know that some of them might be unsanitary, but you have to remember how they are living here. My workers used to stay in a cramped shop houses, which houses 12 other people with them.

“So we need to understand as well, their living conditions. When you live like that, of course it might get a little unsanitary.

Which is why Hassan believes that more should be done to help the Rohingya.

“When I see the Rohingya that works here, I am saddened by their plight. They just want to go back to their homes, but that is not possible due to the conflict and crisis. So they have to put up with pitiful living conditions here,” stressed Hassan.

Hassan also believes that the complaints on the internet regarding the Rohingya are overblown, and exaggerated.

“Just by a few pictures, everyone is so quick to judge the Rohingya who are trying their best to adapt to Malaysia. I believe that it is an isolated issue, so people should not be so judgmental about them,” said Hassan.

Perhaps Malaysians Are The Ones Who Should Be Labeled As Arrogant And Unadaptable

Buka Puasa for the Rohingya at the Centre for Rohingya communityBuka Puasa for the Rohingya at the Centre for Rohingya community

We also spoke to Nurainie Haziqah Shafii, 27, who is a lawyer at a firm in Kuala Lumpur..

Nurainie has plenty of experience in dealing with Rohingya, as she has been working with the Rohingya community since 2013, through the Pertubuhan Amal & Kemanusiaan Selangor or better known as Human Aid.

Nurainie HaziqahNurainie HaziqahPart of Human Aid’s efforts in helping the Rohingya is setting up a community centre in Selayang, which also doubles up as a centre for the Rohingya community. At the centre, they also set up a school for the underprivileged Rohingya children which numbers at around 100 students.

From her experience with Rohingya refugee, Nurainie rejects vehemently the idea that the Rohingya is unable and do not want to assimilate to Malaysia.

“I have been working with them since 2013, and I also know some of them personally. To me, labelling generally that they are an uncouth and unadaptable to the Malaysian way of living is wrong.

“Assimilation does not happen overnight. If you look at European countries who lets refugees in, they are also facing the same problems. The assimilation process usually takes decades, due to the difference in culture and community.

“So it is unfair if we are to judge them based on that. If we use this as justification of not taking them into our countries, then perhaps we should be labeled as arrogant and unadaptable as well,” stressed Nurainie.

Unlike Hassan, Nurainie is also against the allegations that the way the Rohingya live is “dirty and inconsiderate”.

“Labeling someone else as dirty and inconsiderate is a norm for a community that is afraid of change. These are the same people who are calling for help for the Rohingya, but when they are here, they label them as such just because they are enroaching onto locals territory,” stressed Nurainie.

Nurainie also explained that part of the help Human Aid provides for the Rohingya includes dental care, medical care, education, and basic amenities.

Which begs the question, how long should this carry on? How long should the Rohingya live off welfare?

Nurainie believes that it is up to the government to change things.

“I believe that the government should look into setting up a local law to govern the refugees in Malaysia. Due to the lack of a local law, so many of the refugees are denied access to basic human rights such as education, healthcare and job opportunities.

“This allows them to be exploited, and even worse some of their exploiters includes the authorities who should be protecting them. So I believe that the government should be looking into ways to properly register the refugees,” said Nurainie.

But does that mean that Malaysia should not take in any more refugees? On the contrary, actually.

Sure, there will be problems, but for now perhaps extreme situations requires extreme measures.

Maybe the question that we need to ask ourselves is, how would we want to be treated if we were in their place?