Community, Featured, General, Govt, Politics, World

A personal note on welcoming refugees in Malaysia

After our visit to the Belantik Immigration Depot to visit the Rohingya refugees, there are some friends who asked why should Malaysia help, and whether we have capacity (mainly, money) to help the Rohingyas.

Of course such sentiments are understandable especially given that Malaysians are now newly taxed with GST due to government corruption and incompetence.

However, how many of us even when having little ourselves will extend a helping hand to someone in need? I am convinced that many many of my friends, many many Malaysians, even those who out of genuine concern questioned the wisdom of assisting Rohingya, will not think twice of helping someone in need. Look at the overwhelming charity and love for victims of the East Coast flood end of last year and early this year.

Here we are talking about potentially 10,000 lives on the verge of death in the sea near us. Hundreds of them have already died from the perilous journey to keep their lives and the lives of their loved ones. I think we can still find deep in the coffers of our hearts whatever little we have to help them.

But some will say help Malaysians first.

I agree that charity begins at home, but when we set laws and rules on who should we love, who should we love first, or love more and how much, then it is merely an extension of the kind of racism which we all so abhor in the current government. This is not about nice philosophies, but the natural instinct of every human being, we hate being treated less than our worth. Will we then do to others what we want done to us ourselves?

But really, be realistic, how to help if we have no money?

Truth is all parties need to take charge, including UN. For example in the 80s UNHCR funded the Vietnam refugees camps in Malaysia including the RM170 million facilities in Pulau Bidong. Donor countries will also contribute. Of course there will be a cost to Malaysia but it is not to say we are bearing the bills alone.

I’m still not convinced, we should really take care of our own backyard before we deal with more problems from other countries.

Ok, fine. Let me tell you frankly, we already have refugees including Rohingyas in Malaysia, hundreds of thousands of them. But because there is no institutionalised solution to deal with their presence, they all go underground. When they do, they are exploited. So we read news of dead bodies, wrapped up and left on the streets – these people have no legal status and dared not seek medical attention when sick. We read news of estates and farms hiring refugees to work illegally with low pay and terrible working condition. We hear even law enforcers exhorting money from them – I almost cried when I hear a Rohingya man told us how his hard earned money from a day’s work as a labourer sometimes had to be handed over to “officers” who threatened to arrest him.

And we read horrible news of human trade, where men, women and even children are bought and sold as if they are goods. Malaysia last year was demoted to the worst position of Tier 3 in the U.S. Department of States Human Trafficking Report. Reuters did a story of northern Malaysia becoming hub of human trafficking.

And think about Lahad Datu where undocumented migrants were exploited even by the government through Projek IC to build their vote bank. Now it has become a security threat to Sabah.

Last year in Penang, there were over 20 gruesome murder cases involving Myanmar nationals and under Ops Kelar police had arrested 17 Myanmar nationals suspected to be involved in the murders. As the refugees go underground, exploited by locals and traffickers alike, denied of human rights and dignity, they will create other social problems. Eventually you and I, the locals, will be affected.

When I was in Jordan, I was brought to tour the Zaatari Syrian refugees camp jointly run by UNHCR and the Jordanian government. It was orderly, and well managed despite having a population of 80,000 refugees (that’s about the size of Bukit Mertajam, my constituency). They run their own small economy, schools etc. with the funding from UN, Jordan and many donor countries. There were strict access control into and out of the camp. I am not even saying this is the immediate solution now, the government need to quickly explore all perspective including exerting real pressure on Myanmar to stop the atrocities against the Rohingyas and to take them home under a guarantee of safety and peace. But what I want to point out is this; we have done this before with the Vietnamese boat people for over 20 years from 1979 to 2001 when the last camp in Sungai Besi was eventually closed, there is no reason to think that we cannot once again show our leadership in this major humanitarian crisis.

People are dying my dear friends, this week when Parliament reconvenes, our colleague, MP for Sungai Siput, Dr Jeyakumar will table an emergency motion on the Rohingya refugees. I think we can really find even if it is deep inside the coffers of our hearts the compassion to do something, no matter big or small. Will you support us?

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