LAST_UPDATESun, 22 Jul 2018 9pm

Fikirlah: May The Rohingya Find Salvation

KUALA LUMPUR -- Recently I was taking a ride in a Grab car and whilst conversing with the driver, he grumbled to me about the deluge of foreigners in his neighbourhood in Ampang, Selangor.

"Previously, we were worried about the Indonesian and Bangladeshi migrants and now we have to deal with the Rohingya and other communities from Myanmar," he complained.

He said while he sympathised with the plight of the Rohingya who were fleeing persecution in their homeland, he was concerned about his family's safety.

He felt that many of them who were granted refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) treated their UN card as a ticket to do whatever they liked.

His fears are not unfounded because security issues aside, we don't know what kind of diseases they are bringing with them as their attitude towards cleanliness leaves much to be desired.

Nevertheless, I empathise with them as they have suffered the most appalling privations, to the extent of having to flee their homeland to seek refuge in another country.

They are willing to do any kind of work as long as they can earn enough to have a roof over their heads and feed themselves and their families.

Malaysia has made its stand on the Rohingya issue crystal clear to all and sundry.

In early February, our country launched a pilot scheme to allow some 300 Rohingya UNHCR cardholders to work in the plantation and manufacturing sectors for up to three years so that they can gain some experience before being placed in a third country.

Malaysia may not be a signatory to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967) but, on humanitarian grounds, it is always looking for effective solutions to reduce the hardship faced by the Rohingya community.

Where ASEAN is concerned, only Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei have hit out at the Myanmar government's military crackdown on the ethnic Rohingya. The other ASEAN members have been rather quiet.

Malaysia has strongly questioned the manner in which Myanmar addressed the issue. Why, the latter has even refused to allow the international community to enter the country to provide much-needed humanitarian aid to the Rohingya. Worse still, their soldiers have been allegedly killing and raping Rohingya women and children.

On Oct 2 and 3, some 120 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from the ASEAN region will meet at the International Youth Centre, here, to discuss the Rohingya issue.

Organised by the Malaysian Consultative Council for Islamic Organisation (MAPIM) and the Malaysian Youth Council, the conference seeks to draft an action plan to resolve the Rohingya crisis and save them from further oppression.

MAPIM president Mohd Azmi Abdul Hamid said the agenda would cover information updates; the latest developments in Arakan, Myanmar and Bangladesh; crisis analysis; sharing of NGO experience; and advocation of the issue.

"We will also discuss the action strategy such as lobby efforts, humanitarian missions, mass mobilisation, international pressure and legal action," he said.

I am hoping that good sense would prevail and the Myanmar government would have a change of heart and allow volunteers and humanitarian missions to enter Myanmar's northern Rakhine state, which has been witnessing a major army crackdown against the Rohingya minority living there.

Currently, aid can only be extended through the neighbouring country of Bangladesh where there are now over 640,000 Rohingya refugees, a big number of them languishing in camps around the Bangladeshi city of Cox's Bazar.

Thousands of ethnic Rohingya are still stuck in the crisis-hit areas in Myanmar and are facing starvation and health-related issues.

According to a report in The Guardian news portal, the office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Myanmar has said that Myanmar has blocked all UN aid agencies from delivering vital supplies of food, water and medicine to thousands of civilians trapped in Rakhine.

Yes, the Rohingya minority group is facing oppression. They are largely helpless and have to depend on international agencies for food and aid.

The Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine are not a recognised ethnic group in Myanmar. In 1982, Myanmar passed a citizenship law that stripped the Rohingya of the right to be citizens of the country they were living in. They were not among the 135 racial groups that were recognised as citizens under the new law.

As a result, the Rohingya have no voting rights or the right to travel and are denied of educational and employment opportunities.

Without formal education and basic religious education, how bright can their future be? It is rumoured that should any of them go to school and excel in their studies, their teachers would deliberately make them fail their exams.

They are viewed as immigrants in Rakhine and over the years, they have been facing indiscriminate attacks by the army.

It is more than a religious or ethnic cleansing issue. It is about a minority community that is going through untold suffering in their desperate attempts to survive.

We can only watch them from afar. However, we can pray for their protection.

If we can't help them directly, the least we can do is contribute to the funds that have been set by various aid agencies and organisations.

In the meantime, what we really want is a conclusive solution to the conflict in Myanmar so that the Rohingya and other minority communities there can rebuild their lives peacefully.

Hopefully one day, peace will descend on the land where they live, Rakhine.


By Nurul Halawati Mohamad Azhari