Home Civil Society Voices 2017 Civil Society Voices Rohingya street protest: Have they abused their stay in Malaysia?

Rohingya street protest: Have they abused their stay in Malaysia?

A Rohingya protest in Kuala Lumpur in 2017

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The Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign has written an open letter to Suhakam chairperson Razali Ismail and to any others in Malaysia who are worried about the Rohingya voicing out their concerns

Dear Sir

We refer to your statements carried in Channel NewsAsia relating to the recent ‘demonstration’ of Rohingya in Kuala Lumpur.

You stated that you would have preferred a more orderly petitioning of the government, and that Rohingya were stretching public opinion by coming out onto the streets.

We also note that there are various messages from various quarters on various social media which accuse the Rohingya of abusing their stay here, of spreading fear amongst the local population and/or of overstaying their welcome.

Please allow us to make a few observations.

Why the Rohingya were gathered in Kuala Lumpur

Tan Sri, as we are sure you know, those Rohingya who were at Ampang Park on 30 August actually came to support the handing over by local NGOs of a petition to the Myanmar Embassy in Jalan Ampang Hilir. This took place.

The police, however, were under orders not to allow the Rohingya group to gather in the vicinity of the embassy, and cordoned off the area.

The Rohingya then had no choice but to revert to Ampang Park. Their target was never Malaysians or the Malaysia government, but the government of Myanmar, who are engaged in mass killings, violence, clearance and wholesale burnings of Rohingya villages in Arakan state, directly affecting the families and friends of Rohingya here in Malaysia, and of course causing them huge and understandable concern.

The Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign (PSHTC) is certain that we can understand why Rohingya here are so affected and worried about what is happening in Arakan state, and why they were trying to make their concerns known to the Myanmar Embassy. The situation in Arakan state is so appalling and so desperate, so as fellow human beings we can surely sympathise with those so sadly experiencing such trauma and grief.

It will not be forgotten that Rohingya attended the Solidarity Assembly for Rohingya at Stadium Titiwangsa in December last year, an event addressed by our prime minister. No one questioned their legitimacy at that gathering and nor should that legitimacy be questioned now.

Awful situation facing the Rohingya in Arakan state, Myanmar

Of far more pressing importance than the KL episode is the issue of what is happening in Arakan state. Far from pointing the finger at the Rohingya here, we should be busy pointing a lot of fingers at the military authorities backed by the government of Aung Suu Kyi and its supporters, who have been engaged in ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya (and others) for many years.

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Indeed, rather than point a finger at the Rohingya here, we should be pointing fingers at ourselves and our governments and institutions who continue to stand by while the most horrific atrocities are being carried out – again and again – against innocent people.

The world’s media are fast catching up with the situation – that there is systematic targeting of civilian Rohingya populations, systematic burnings of villages, systematic clearances of people, accompanied by indiscriminate killings, violence and looting.

The documentation of these atrocities and the consequences are daily being reported. Up to 300,000 people have fled to the Bangladesh border, desperately seeking to survive. It is also estimated that possibly 3,000 to 5,000 Rohingya have been killed, though these figures will only be verified in time. The area remains closed to any independent observer or aid giver.

The present atrocities and military operation are only the latest ferocious chapter in a history of persecution, deprivation, denial, discrimination and possible extermination of the Rohingya by the Myanmar military government, endorsed by the government of Aung Suu Kyi and its supporters.

Earlier this year the UN Special Rapporteur asked for permission to conduct a further fact-finding mission because of worry that crimes against humanity have been committed possibly by the authorities in the violence that has followed 9 October last year.

But Aung Suu Kyi’s government, which has denied that any other wrongdoing has taken place, at the same time has denied the UN any access. The military and the government in Myanmar refuse to be held to account.

For the Rohingya, their persecution has been continuous for many decades, as a review of the history will confirm. They, together with UN agencies, human rights groups, media and others, have produced report after report, petition after petition, testimony after testimony, hope after hope, detailing their persecution and the nature of the violence against them, and asking for the world’s protection.

These pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Killings, disappearances, rape, torture, other violence, burnings, lootings and multiple other deprivations have been shown time after time, year after year. But no significant action has been taken by any government, regional grouping or international body to prevent the military and the government of Aung Suu Kyi to inflict further discrimination and targetting of the Rohingya, so allowing the present escalation of violence and round of ethnic cleansing to occur.

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Shame on us, not the Rohingya, for failing to stop the genocide

So it is not us who should be blaming the Rohingya for voicing their concerns. It is us who should be utterly ashamed of ourselves – for failing to find a way to respond to this utter inhumanity, to stop the violence, the genocide, the murder of thousands of women, children, babies and men, the denial of citizenship rights and the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands over the years. Shame on us, not on the Rohingya.

Our Malaysian government of course has indeed come out strongly in solidarity with the Rohingya, in rallies both last year and in June this year. Both were addressed by none other than our prime minister.

In December 2016, he spoke to 10,000 Malaysians and Rohingya (yes, Rohingya were there) gathered at the Solidarity Assembly for Rohingya at Stadium Titiwangsa and sent a direct message to Aung San Suu Kyi, saying “I want to tell Aung San Suu Kyi: Enough is enough!”

In June, he repeated this message and declared, “There is an article in the Asean charter that says Asean must uphold human rights,” and “The world cannot just sit by and watch genocide taking place.”

This could have set the tone for an alternative trajectory, one in which Malaysia takes the lead in the region, coming out strongly on the side of the dispossessed and against the sort of atrocities being carried out in Myanmar.

We could have stood tall as a nation, firm in our commitment to allow the voices of the refugees here to be heard, the experiences of women, men and children in places like Arakan to be shared and supported, and for us to unite in our demand that perpetrators of crimes be brought to justice.

But we seem to have abandoned this position and have instead reverted to a passivity and acquiescence in the atrocities and in the meantime denying the very people who are suffering any right to voice this. This is a far cry from the commitments and messages of the rallies.

And let us not forget that even though there are Rohingya who have sought refuge here in Malaysia, it remains a highly precarious refuge. As for all refugees here, we give them no rights; they remain unprotected against exploitation by authorities, employers, agents and criminal syndicates, including human traffickers; they have to eke out an existence for themselves and their families with no right to employment and no right for their children to access education.

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It is an unforgiving and unsupportive environment, filled with suspicion and hatred, as evidenced by many social media messages, many of which are nothing more than racist or xenophobic. Can’t we do better than that?

And now, at this time, we should be further focussing our thinking on what will happen to the thousands of Rohingya and others in Burma who have been forced to flee their homes. They have fled with few possessions to the border area. Where will they find food, medicine, shelter? Who will do anything?

It seems that we are refusing to call Aung Suu Kyi and her government and military to account, no doubt because of our wider geopolitical and economic agendas. Human rights are rarely prioritised over the power/profits/influence for which governments and corporations strive.

Then let us at least respond to the humanitarian needs of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya and others wilfully displaced and left unprotected by the actions of the Myanmar government. We should organise and insist on delivering food and medicine supplies and other help, before starvation and illness begin to claim even more lives.

Let us support the Rohingya and all whose human rights are being abused and demand that those committing crimes against humanity be brought to justice

That is the very least we should do. And please let us stop blaming the Rohingya for daring to voice their concerns, which is nothing less than a voicing of their humanity.

Tan Sri, and all of us – we would do far better:

  • to direct our remarks at helping Malaysians understand the awful situation in Myanmar; the awful history of the Rohingya and other populations which has led to so many of them fleeing, some to our country;
  • to reaffirm the commitments made by our prime minister at the June and December rallies, commitments which say ‘enough is enough’, we will do whatever we can to stop the genocide, to support Rohingya in Arakan, to support Rohingya and other refugees here; and
  • most of all, not to attack the defenceless and powerless, but to call for the people who are committing horrific and consistent crimes against humanity to be brought to justice, whoever they may be.

Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign
[email protected]

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