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Stop hate campaign against refugees and asylum seekers


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Tenaganita is really concerned about the rising xenophobic attitude and actions by Malaysians towards the Rohingya communities over the past two months.

They have been attacked recklessly in social media; there has been heightened tension aired in social media and other media that is being orchestrated by certain parties in the country.

Let us remind ourselves that asylum seekers and refugees are people fleeing from war, violence and persecution. They are running away due to fear and a threat to their own lives in their homelands. As such, this hate campaign is simply unjustified.

Instead of using social media to create awareness and understanding the issues, while being proud of hosting them, sharing our spaces and resources with them, we use social media; once again, we lash out in violent hatred against them.

“We respect and follow the laws enacted by this country. However, as in everything, there is good and bad; so there will be a few bad people among us. I would like to appeal to everyone not to misjudge the whole community because of the actions of a few bad people,” teacher Feroza, a leader among the Rohingya and Burmese Muslim community in Malaysia says.

“We are victims of genocide, fleeing our homeland and trying to survive. We do not know what the future holds for us. We have no right to return to our homeland. We live with the small hope of being allowed to go to a third country.

“We, the Rohingya are very grateful to the government and people of Malaysia for giving us temporary shelter. Please sympathise with and understand our people who are not even allowed to use the word human rights,” Feroza added.

How can we ignore the fact the Rohingya asylum seekers and refugees have left their homes, identities and loved ones in search of a safer place?

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We are well aware they are persecuted in their home country. In fact, they are the most persecuted ethnic group in the world according to the UN.

With such grave situations, we as Malaysians, along with the government of Malaysia, have an obligation as a UN member state, which is currently sitting in the UN Human Rights Council, to protect and provide basic rights to this vulnerable community – even if we have not signed the Refugee Convention 1951.

It is also crucial for the government of Malaysia to develop a comprehensive policy on asylum seekers and refugees to ensure we do not fail in our humanitarian responsibilities towards refugees.

It is important to remind ourselves of the promises and commitments we made during the discussions leading to the Global Compact for Refugees. At the UN in Geneva, the representative from the Malaysian government said: “We would like to assure that Malaysia would not neglect its international obligations and commitments in addressing migration induced by war, natural calamities, political unrest and armed conflicts” (UN Global Compact for Refugees 2018).

Therefore, with the rising xenophobic sentiments towards them and the constant fear within the Rohingya community, Tenaganita urges all parties, especially the new government, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the Malaysia human rights commission Suhakam and civil society organisations to come together to address the anti-Rohingya campaign.

The Rohingya have been facing continual attacks, harassment and threats due to the rising fear and hatred that is currently prevalent amongst the host people. We cannot let this sentiment grow further or let this situation go unaddressed.

We understand the issues that cause people’s dissatisfaction over the presence of asylum seekers and refugees in Malaysia. But we need to look into multiple ways of addressing the core issues and the root causes, instead of just reacting.

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The Malaysian government has made it illegal for Rohingya and all asylum seekers and refugees to be employed, nor does the government provide them any form of support enabling them to have some form of livelihood.

In fact, in our experience, we hardly see the refugee community expecting any assistance that takes up the country’s resources. Consequently, most of them have no choice but to be gainfully employed albeit illegally and become vulnerable to exploitation by employers, agents and contractors.

There have been numerous reports of asylum seekers and refugees who suffer labour rights violations, such as unpaid wages and wage theft. Refugees have also been detained by immigration authorities simply because they have been employed.

Most Rohingya who are employed are involved in “3D jobs”- dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs that are shunned by Malaysians. However, when they are faced with rights violations, there is no access to justice or right of redress.

Lately, Tenaganita has received information that the members of the Rohingya communities are facing harassment and confrontation from the general public following an anti-Rohingya campaign.

We hope the government will take the necessary steps to stop this anti-Rohingya campaign without delay and engage with the UNHCR, Suhakam and civil society organisations to find the best way to resolve the issues.

There needs to be more robust education for the host people about asylum seekers and refugees, to bridge the gap in understanding the genuine reasons why they come here, to debunk the perceived notions that they are taking our jobs and resources and that they are the reason for the increased cases of crime.

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Media outlets should be more vigilant in banning accounts that promote hatred and violence towards the communities. There is a need to adhere to community violations guidelines.

This hate campaign against the Rohingya is deplorable and makes a mockery of the concept of Malaysia Madani (a civil Malaysia) that we cherish as a hallmark of Malaysian society. As such, we urge the public to be more aware while checking the misinformation that circulates in social media.

People who hold positions in the government, both at the federal and state levels, must be mindful of their words and actions, instead of provoking and aggravating the situation to increase more hatred and fear. We request them to come together to look into building peace and understanding among the affected community and Malaysians.

If we stay silent on this matter, how are we different from being complicit in persecuting them too, when we allow this hatred, fear-mongering and unkind treatment to fester in the country? 

“Refugees are not threat; we are just normal human beings trying to seek safety and protection. We are fighting for our lives, but the sad part is in the search of refuge and protection, we have become the target of threat, terror, negativity, and disgrace. Please treat us just like any other human being,” Shanila T, a refugee from the Pakistani community, said.

As we enter the holy month of Ramadan, let us instil and practise kindness, generosity and understanding of the other, especially of the Rohingya and other affected communities, so that the true values of the #MalaysiaMadani we proudly speak of can shine through. – Tenaganita

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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