Rohingyas are once again at the receiving end of hatred due to the COVID-19 crisis. Malaysia, the safe haven for thousands of Rohingya refugees has turned it’s back on them during the crisis and has brought despair to the already persecuted ethnic group in South-East Asia. Rohingya Muslims are originally a minority ethnic group from Myanmar who due to a series of ill-treatment fled from their country to seek refuge in neighboring countries of Bangladesh, Malaysia, India, etc.
For years now, Malaysia has ignored the fact that most refugees in the country are involved in illegal activities and employment and are not officially registered, citizens. Out of the 33 million population, around 5.5 million are refugees. 56% of the total refugees are Rohingya. This contributes to the fact that a huge portion of the Malaysian economy, however illegal is held up by the refugees. The Malaysian employer shire the refugees to work at their factories, markets, or at their homes at severely low wage and without any official documentation of the hiring which provides them a huge opportunity at exploitation. Also due to the fact that they are not officially recorded as citizens of any country, they don’t have claims to health care, human rights, or citizenship. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the economy has ROHINGYAS plummeted in Malaysia, and once again the blame has been borne by the oppressed Rohingya refugees and told to “return from wherever they came from.” Minimum 5 petitions have been signed by thousands of online demanding deportation of the refugees from Malaysia. Although the petitions were taken down, it reflects the mentality of the citizens of the country towards the refugees. What added fuel to the flame was the incapable handling of the COVID-19 crisis by the Government.
At least 2000 migrant refugees were arrested and taken in cuffs for Coronavirus testing and accused of spreading the disease. They are currently kept in camps in despicable conditions. Although the act was not entirely directed against the Rohingyas, at least 800 of the arrested were Rohingya refugees. Muhyiddin Yassin, Prime Minister of the country refused to give any statement regarding the matter. Following the incident, Eleyas, a Rohingya Muslim who sought refuge in Malaysia 6 years back was fired by his employer. “They told us they could no longer employ foreigners, only Malaysians,” said Elias. He’s among thousands who had lost their job ROHINGYAS because of xenophobia. According to two activist groups, 80% of the refugees who were employed before the COVID-19 crisis have been rendered jobless with the excuse of draining ‘public resources’ which is ironic considering they are denied moments. Their challenges have increased due to the lockdown and the xenophobic attitude,” said Hasnah Hussein, a Rohingya volunteer. The trouble began mid-March when demand for citizenship for the refugees arose online. Tengku Emma Zuriana Tengku Azmi, from the European Rohingya Council rights group, was harassed on Facebook when she appealed to the Government for the boats carrying Rohingya refugees to land.
The government had previously refused entry to a boat carrying 200 refugees into the country due to the Coronavirus crisis. She said, “There is harassment on the streets and online. I’ve never seen anything like this in Malaysia before.” Rohingya people are not new to the treatment. They had undergone torture by the security forces in Myanmar in 2016-17 that forced around 700,000 Rohingya to leave Rakhine state and seek refuge in other countries. They were denied the right to property, land, and basic resources in Myanmar because they were treated as immigrants and not citizens. They had lost their citizenship in the 1982 Citizenship Act and were not ROHINGYAS recognized as one of the 135 legal ethnic groups in Myanmar. In the 2016-17 campaign of ethnic cleansing, they were subjected to sexual assault, mass killing, and arson.
Currently, less than 400,000 Rohingyas can be found in Myanmar, when originally, more than 1 million of them were citizens of the country. They sought refuge in Malaysia where they were treated as illegal immigrants but were provided shelter and employed at illegal jobs with no job security. It was their safe haven. But due to the current crisis, even Malaysia has given way to xenophobia. Atrocities against Rohingya people are simply heart wrenching and inhumane. They are the largest ethnic group in the world with no home. While the pandemic has brought trouble to us all, some people, like the Rohingyas have been bearing the most brunt of the crisis.