Lawyers for Liberty refers to the home minister’s threat to Rohingya refugees to not be “big-headed” and to keep in mind they are refugees in this country.
It is astonishing that the home minister finds it necessary to comment on a viral video of two young children who were seemingly rude to road users while seeking donations. What is even more puzzling is that the minister escalated it to paint broad strokes that all Rohingya refugees are “big-headed” or problematic.
What kind of ministerial criticism is “big-headed”? Are there no “big-headed” Malaysians? Are we all angels that we chastise an entire race?
By definition, racism is harmful or unfair things said or done based on the belief that their own race makes them more good or moral. To brand an entire race in the way the minister did amounts to racism by any definition.
The home minister, instead of further stoking xenophobia against Rohingyas, should have been more discerning; he should have been more concerned whether the children were being exploited and about the underlying causes that led the children to resort to begging in the first place. The most hard-hearted person would have had sympathy for children in this plight.
The minister should be well aware that there is no existing framework that safeguards the physical and economical wellbeing of refugees in Malaysia, which makes them extremely vulnerable to exploitation or to resort to whatever means they can find to survive. They are painfully aware of their legal status as refugees in Malaysia by the daily hardships they have to endure on a day-to-day basis and do not need any reminder of it.
As a person with power in the government structure, he should use his position to accord the Rohingya refugees the necessary protection and assistance that they need instead of giving scathing comments on the entire group based on a short viral video of the actions of two children.
If the government truly wants to help the Rohingyas on a humanitarian basis, the first thing it should do is to treat them like the victims of their terrible circumstance as escapees from genocide and not frame them as targets of societal hatred in Malaysia.
Zaid Malek is coordinator of Lawyers for Liberty