Amid Putrajaya’s remark on camps, local prominent advocates call for kindness, leadership on Myanmar refugees

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A general view of the temporary Beranang Satellite Prison and Immigration Depot, June 3, 2021. The group also expressed concern over the Rohingya people currently detained, many of whom the group said, were children. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
A general view of the temporary Beranang Satellite Prison and Immigration Depot, June 3, 2021. The group also expressed concern over the Rohingya people currently detained, many of whom the group said, were children. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, June 18 — The Malaysian Advisory Group on Myanmar, consisting of prominent advocates including Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar, Tan Sri Jemilah Mahmood and Senator Liew Chin Tong, expressed its strong stance against the recent government announcement that it is considering creating refugee camps in Malaysia.

Amid growing hostility against refugees, the group has said today that Malaysia cannot turn a blind eye to the sufferings of refugees, and must “lead by example” as a developing nation and member of Asean.

“The hardline approach adopted by the state will simply push refugees and undocumented migrants further into hiding and discourage them from coming forward to be tested and vaccinated, essential steps in curbing community infections.

“However, despite alarm expressed by various non-governmental organisations and even politicians, the authorities responsible have dug their heels in and doubled down.

“These punitive measures will undermine efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19, thereby endangering the Malaysian public,” said the group in a statement.

The group said that the vast majority of refugees in Malaysia are “urban refugees”, which allows them to live with dignity, normality and contribute to Malaysian society

“Building camps would not only perpetuate trauma and dependency, but would also be an enormous drain on public resources and cut the refugees off from the rest of society,” they said.

The group also expressed concern over the Rohingya people currently detained, many of whom the group said, were children.

“We must work together to find alternatives to detention for refugees, especially children, who have not committed any crime and would face persecution and risks to their lives if returned to their country of origin,” they said.

They also called on other Asean member states to ramp up efforts of protection for refugees, especially from Myanmar, on the basis of shared responsibility “as outlined in United Nations’ Global Compact on Refugees”.

The statement was endorsed by nine members of the advisory group.

These also include Tan Sri Tunku Puteri Intan Safinaz Sultan Abdul Halim, Tan Sri Mohd Hashim Ali, Tan Sri Anthony Francis Fernandes, Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, Datuk Seri Kalimullah Hassan and Lilianne Fan.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 179,570 refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia.

On Tuesday, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin said he had received a suggestion from the public to create dedicated camps to house UNHCR card holders — and was considering the option while taking into account the necessary locations, infrastructure and cost.

Although in 2016, the Muslim-majority population of Malaysia initially welcomed Rohignya refugees — who were also predominantly Muslim — in recent years, the local sentiment and government approach towards the refugee community has become increasingly hostile.

Commonly reported slights are that the refugee population is overrunning local communities, and they do not respect local rules, regulations, and codes of conduct, as well as that they are spoiling the job market by offering cheap labour.

Malaysia is currently not a signatory of the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention and local laws offer refugees little protection or differentiation from illegal immigrants.

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