Don’t send Rohingya back to lion’s den


PETALING JAYA: Two groups campaigning against the persecution of Rohingya have voiced support for Putrajaya’s insistence on Myanmar’s guarantee that it will grant citizenship to members of the community before they are repatriated from Bangladesh.

However, both said the guarantee of citizenship alone might not be enough to ensure the end of persecution.

Tengku Emma Zuriana Tengku Azmi, the European Rohingya Council’s ambassador to Malaysia, told FMT “we’d be sending the Rohingya back to the lion’s den” if there was no guarantee of citizenship.

But she also said she feared that hatred for the community would remain even after they became citizens. “At the moment, Myanmar does not even want to mention the word Rohingya.”

M Ramachelvan, who chairs the Bar Council’s Migrants, Refugees and Immigration Affairs Committee, welcomed Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah’s statement of the government’s stand, but he said repatriation might not be the best thing for the refugees until Myanmar had taken steps to ensure their security.

Myanmar must first ensure that violence against the Rohingya and other forms of persecution would not recur, he added.

In his statement on Thursday, Saifuddin said Malaysia would support repatriation of the refugees from Bangladesh as long as it was “voluntary, safe and dignified” and there was a guarantee from the Myanmar government that it would accept them as citizens.

“The granting of citizenship is an important mean of ensuring the protection of their human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as an important assurance for a sustainable return of the Rohingya refugees to Myanmar,” he said.

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Tengku Emma said she believed the Rohingya would at present be safer as refugees in Bangladesh or Malaysia and she urged Asean to pressure Myanmar to work hard at reconciliation and stopping hate speech and anti-Muslim propaganda.

“Otherwise Myanmar will keep fooling the world and doing the same thing over and over again,” she added.

She said Malaysia, Bangladesh and other countries giving refuge to the Rohingya should give a timeline for Myanmar to improve the situation.

Rohingya in Myanmar are said to be generally stateless. Hundreds of thousands of them fled a brutal military crackdown in August last year, most of them taking shelter in crowded camps in Bangladesh and bringing with them harrowing tales of rape, murder and arson.

Last month, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on a programme of repatriation. The agreement came less than a week after United Nations investigators warned that a genocide against the Muslim minority was still ongoing.

The repatriation plan has since been postponed indefinitely.

There are currently more than 80,000 Rohingya in Malaysia, according to official data. Pakatan Harapan promised in its election manifesto to ease the problems they face by ratifying the 1951 Refugee Convention.