By Lara Kajs
Just last year the world watched as smuggler’s boats filled with thousands of Rohingya migrants were left at sea, their fate uncertain.
Then, Malaysia came to their rescue and allowed them to come ashore with the hope of starting a new life, but a year later, hope has eroded and the situation for the Rohingya has not changed much.
According to Amy Smith of the NGO Fortify Rights, while Malaysia was praised for opening up its borders, the reality is that the Rohingya boat survivors were basically put into immediate detention. Both the Malaysian and Indonesian governments agreed to temporary assistance and refuge and they gave the international community one year to resettle or send back to Myanmar the Rohingya victims in the crisis.
While the majority of the Bangladeshi migrants returned home, more than 370 Rohingya refugees were sent to Belantik detention center in Kedah. Normally, persons identified by UNHCR as Rohingya are granted asylum and released; however the government prevented the UN refugee agency and other humanitarian organizations from accessing the detention center. A year later, many are still in Belantik and suffering detrimental health issues.
Since neither Malaysia nor Indonesia is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the refugees are treated as undocumented migrants without the right to work or right to use to public services.
UNHCR has been trying to persuade the Malaysian authorities to allow the refugees to live in one of the country’s Rohingya communities, but that has not happened yet.
Smith said, “For Rohingya, it is a very difficult situation because they are basically treated as illegal undocumented migrants and are subject to arrest, exploitation and extortion by the Malaysian authorities.”
Described as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, the Muslim Rohingya of Myanmar have been robbed of citizenship, stripped of their basic human rights and have had their movement restricted by the government.
Yet, for the many still in Myanmar, they hold onto hope that with the formation of a new government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, their situation will improve. So far, that has not been the case, but the number of Rohingya trying to leave has for the most part stalled.
Featured Image: Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants wait on board a fishing boat off the coast of Indonesia. Both groups are increasingly taking to sea to escape conditions in their home countries. Photo: Reuters