Press Statement

Malaysia should recognise Rohingya as refugees

2 December 2016

While Lawyers for Liberty welcomes the Malaysian government’s stronger stance against Myanmar regarding the ongoing persecution of Rohingya in the northern Rakhine state, it should not act as though this is a new issue as they have been persecuted for decades.

It was only last year that thousands of Rohingya got on rickety boats to escape Myanmar, only to be turned away by Indonesia (except Acheh), Thailand and Malaysia even though it was clear many of those on-board were in dire need of emergency assistance. Hundreds, if not thousands perished at sea in order to reach us. Malaysia’s policy then was to offer food, water, fuel and medical assistance but prevented them from landing. Those who managed to land on Malaysian shores were detained at detention centres.

Lawyers for Liberty reminds the government that despite the Rohingya’s status as the world’s most persecuted people, they are still treated as undocumented migrants in Malaysia and subjected to the harsh immigration laws and policies. Without valid documents, they are unable to work legally and live in perpetual fear of raids, arrest and harassment. Consequently, they live on the margins of society, constantly in hiding and living in poverty.

If the government is serious in helping the Rohingya, it should start by recognising them as refugees and helping those who are on our very own doorstep. They should be provided with documents, basic humanitarian assistance, access to social services, a chance to work and educate their children, so that they can lead a semblance of a dignified life while they are in our country. If there are new boatloads of Rohingya arrivals, hopefully, the government will change its policy to match its rhetoric.

Finally, the government should also sign the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees so that Malaysia can have a more coherent refugee policy that is consistent with international standards rather than the current haphazard approach, as exemplified by its selective recognition of Syrian refugees.

Released by:
Eric Paulsen
Executive Director
Lawyers for Liberty

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