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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Malaysia’s Rohingya dilemma

The MEF and MTUC say the refugees do not need to be assimilated as they are only here on a temporary basis, but others disagree.
rohingyaPETALING JAYA: Twenty years ago, a 17-year-old boy named Mohammad Rafique Khairul Bashar left his home in Myanmar’s Rakhine state on foot, looking to escape an oppressive regime which he says would have put a young man like him into forced labour.
Mohammad Rafique Khairul Bashar
Mohammad Rafique Khairul Bashar
But, having built a family and a life here in Malaysia, Rafique, a Rohingya refugee, still sees Rakhine as home despite its ongoing troubles.
Last December, acts of violence against the Rohingya – which saw hundreds raped and killed and tens of thousands displaced – reportedly carried out by Myanmar security forces, sparked a humanitarian crisis and drew international condemnation.
“Now we can’t go back because of the problems there.
“But if there’s peace, of course we want to go back. That is our home,” Rafique said when asked to comment on a Malaysian federal minister’s remark that an assimilation programme for Rohingya refugees would discourage them from going to a third country or returning home.
The minister, Shahidan Kassim, said this when replying to a question in the Dewan Rakyat on whether Putrajaya would introduce an assimilation programme, as carried out in Germany, to help refugees understand local cultures and practices.
But Rafique said such a programme, although good, was not what the community needed.
He said many Rohingya were already teaching their children Malay, and celebrate Muslim festivities like the Malays.
“In some of the NGO-run schools for Rohingya, we teach our children about Malaysian culture, but that doesn’t mean we want to stay.”
Rafique said what the community really wanted was the opportunity to learn and earn – something that is limited, if at all available, for refugees in Malaysia.
“Now we don’t have proper jobs as we aren’t allowed to work in just any sector, so many of us work illegally and are unable to earn much or get any work benefits.
“We only earn enough to survive and send a bit back home. We can’t save, and medical treatment costs a lot.”
Rafique said without proper jobs, the refugees wouldn’t be able to save enough money to return home or go to a third country.
He also said opportunities to learn would help keep Rohinyga children off the streets and away from social ills.
The Rohingya aren’t going anywhere for now
Asean Rohingya Centre (ARC) executive director Helmi Ibrahim said he hoped the government would develop programmes which could help improve the lives of the Rohingya, particularly in the areas of education, work and health.
He said ARC estimated that there were some 200,000 Rohingya refugees in the country, with only 56,000 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) card holders.
Helmi said given a chance, the refugees would want to go back, but the current situation there, as well as the political situation around the world, would make it hard for the Rohingya to go to a third country.
“The government must accept the fact that the Rohingya aren’t going anywhere and we have to manage the issue here rather than wait for migration options for them to open up.”
Helmi said the government should come up with a form of documentation for the Rohingya which would allow them to work or open businesses, and contribute back to the country while being self-sustainable.
Access to education, he said, would also give the refugees skills, which would help them find a job in a third country or back home.
Alternatively, he said, the refugees could also help fill the needs of industries in Malaysia which often complained about the lack of foreign workers.
“If there are better opportunities outside Malaysia, the refugees will go, but how can they go if they have no skills, no money or working experience?
“They aren’t here by choice, they just ran for their lives to the safest place they could find. I don’t believe citizenship is their priority because they still want to go back home.”
DAP MP Charles Santiago said although Putrajaya might not want to ratify the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, the government should at least allow the refugees access to jobs, education and healthcare.
“How can they be productive members of society if they remain shackled? Sadly, the government doesn’t see the Rohyinga as the productive people they can be.
“Putrajaya seems to prefer to bring in foreign labour. I guess if we don’t need to bring in foreign labour, somewhere down the line, someone can’t make money,” he said.
Like Rafique and Helmi, Santiago said the Rohingya would remain in Malaysia as long as they lacked the means to migrate, which was only possible with access to jobs and education.
Currently, Rohingya refugees receive a 50% discount on medical treatment and have access only to private education run by concerned NGOs or the UNHCR.
In February, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced a pilot plan which would allow Rohingya refugees to work.
Under this plan, 300 successful applicants were to be placed in selected companies in the plantation and manufacturing industries.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) executive director Shamsuddin Bardan, is of the view that an assimilation programme is not needed, as the community will not be here for the long term.
Rather, he said, a briefing should be given to the community on Malaysia’s culture and laws.
“They should be taught how to respect the local culture and laws. They tend to carry bad habits from their country, which then cause disruptions here. They need to drop those,” he said when contacted.
Shamsuddin gave the example of the Selayang market, where the Rohingya community there had converted the whole area into a “mini Myanmar”.
He said they subscribed to practices not shown by locals.
“They chew betel nut leaves and then spit it out. Their saliva is everywhere. It is very unsightly.”
Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) secretary-general J Solomon also concurred that an assimilation programme was not needed.
He said the Malaysian government had been kind and considerate enough in its treatment of the Rohingya.
“The government should not be too involved in retaining them. As it is, we have enough documented and undocumented migrant workers as well as refugees,” he said.
On the possibility of some sort of briefing on local culture and laws in the interim period during which the Rohingya are here, Solomon said the government had also been doing its part in providing the necessary basic information to the community.
“The basic knowledge is already being imparted to them, such as for those working in the plantations,” he said.
At the end of the day, Solomon said, the community’s allegiance and patriotism would be towards their own country. -FMT

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