By Syerleena Abdul Rashid | The Malaysian Insider
The horrors of persecution and oppression are not recent occurrences but have been going on throughout the course of history.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognises the Rohingya people as refugees, which grants them a special status far different than illegal migrants.
To date, it is estimated that there are approximately more than 100,000 Rohingya refugees scattered across Malaysia. The actual numbers are predicted to be much higher as there are still a significant amount of undocumented refugees.
Several months ago, I met with several Rohingya refugees and listened as they recalled the atrocities they had experienced, in their homeland and devastatingly, in ours.
Some of them have been residing in Malaysia for three decades and some have children who were born here. However, due to Malaysian immigration regulations and the simple fact that our government has not ratified the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees – these children will never have access to proper education nor will they have their basic needs met.
In the past several decades, the Burmese military junta had successfully written off the history of the Rohingyas in their ancestral land and disseminated massive propaganda aimed to criminalise them.
In the past, both Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims lived together peacefully and this notion has been completely replaced with bigotry and discrimination. As a result, most Rohingya Muslims fled and those who remained were (and still are) subjected to carnage and slaughter in their own home land.
There is no doubt that the plight of the Rohingyas have been ignored for too long and there seems to be very little political will from international agencies in tackling this issue.
Recently, reports regarding human traffickers targeting various refugee communities, in particular the Rohingyas, have begun to surface.
2015 has been marked to be an important year for the whole Southeast Asian region and has thus far, showcased both the positive and negative aspects of socio-political issues; with the Rohingya refugee crisis being one of the most jarring in the region.
Interestingly enough, the recent elections held in Myanmar (which was regarded as the first free elections in 25 years) saw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) winning over 80% of the seats declared.
However, if the final results can confirm this trend, the party’s victory can potentially kick out the old guards and push for much needed socio-political reforms in the country.
If crowned victors, the NLD government must possess the political will to ensure fix the wrong doings created by the military junta. Integration and inclusivity are two important elements that can stabilise democracy.
Therefore the onus is on them to grant the Rohingyas equal rights and most importantly, to be treated as the citizens they deserve. It is often thought that “ensuring the legitimacy and strength of any democratic government should be by how its minorities are treated”.
For decades, leaders from this region had worked tirelessly on a plan that would fully integrate all Asean member countries as one and these nations will enjoy freer economic ties and socio-political relations.
Member countries of Asean should seriously look into the benefits of the Asean Integration of 2015 and given the vast resources that exist, the region can turn into a force to be reckoned with, if steered into the right direction.
But right now, apart from finding a solution to the never ending smoke problems, member countries must seriously look into putting an end to the persecution of thousands of Rohingyas and Myanmar should take the lead by proving to the region that it is serious about walking the talk of democratic reforms. – November 13, 2015.
* The writer, Syerleena Abdul Rashid, is a councillor at the Majlis Bandaraya Pulau Pinang (MBPP) and a proud Malaysian who believes that deep inside we’re not that different at all.