KUALA LUMPUR: Rohingyas in Malaysia fear that their lives are in danger if they are repatriated from the country by next year.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah told the press on Monday that his ministry is working closely with foreign ministers from other ASEAN countries to discuss in detail the best way possible for sending back 1 million Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.
The ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Special Taskforce is led by Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.
The taskforce will head to Myanmar at the end of this month to kick-start the process of helping the Rohingya community to return to their homeland.
“We do not know how fast this process can be implemented, but it should be initiated, for as long as it does not start the problem involving the Rohingya refugees will persist,” said Saifuddin.
“It is important for us to help these people return to their home country, as otherwise it would be condoning the ‘ethnic cleansing’ which is currently happening,” he added.
However, Rohingya refugees who spoke to Arab News anonymously fear that their lives will be at stake if the Malaysian Government decided to send them back to Myanmar.
Rahman (not his real name) told Arab News that he is bemused with the statement by the Malaysian foreign minister as Malaysia has been very supportive of the Rohingya and has criticized in many international conferences the atrocities by the Myanmar military toward them.
“I am confused because Malaysia has played a significant role in helping the Rohingya. They have set up hospitals at the Bangladesh refugee camp, providing aid and food,” said Rahman.
“Suddenly the minister said that next year Rohingya will be repatriated. I don’t know how it is possible they are going to do this.”
The Malaysian Government has yet to reveal how it will send back Rohingya refugees without putting their lives at risk.
Malaysia is not a signatory country to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and thus does not recognize refugees. However, during the recent Malaysian speech at the UN General Assembly, the Southeast Asian nation vowed to ratify all the remaining UN conventions.
There are more than 160,000 refugees in Malaysia, in which 77,130 Rohingya are registered under the UNHCR Persons of Concern in Malaysia. However, with a large amount of undocumented refugees, the number may be estimated at more than 100,000 persons.
Malaysia is a primary destination for Rohingya because it is a Muslim country with a long-standing Rohingya community. Many who arrived here would usually would bring their families.
The majority of the Rohingya refugees live in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, resorting to hard labor in the manufacturing and services industries as illegal workers, as refugees are not permitted to work. As a result, they live in deplorable conditions without proper health care, education or basic needs.
“There is no safe place in Myanmar now,” Rahman told Arab News. Recent reports by the UN fact-finding mission affirmed the crimes against humanity amounting to genocide that Myanmar has committed against the Rohingya community. The silence of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s state counsellor, on the issue has further dented the country’s reputation on human rights protection.
“Of course, I will go back to my homeland with rights and dignity, if Myanmar stops killing my people and grants me citizenship,” said Rahman.