Let us shelter those in need

THE protests in Kuala Lumpur by Rohingya living here is further proof that there is a dire need for a proper plan for asylum seekers in Malaysia.

The Rohingya are an ethnic group similar to Indians, Chinese and Malays. Unlike these communities in Malaysia, the Rohingya have been left to their own devices and not granted citizenship. Thus, they are unable to seek government assistance and their children are unable to attend schools.

We do need to look at Malaysian policies affecting those seeking asylum. Since the government never ratified the UN treaty on asylum seekers, it does not recognise them. But it did accept Bosnian refugees and Syrians fleeing the civil war in their country.

Perhaps it is the fact that the earlier groups were professionals with higher education, or perhaps it is purely a matter of skin colour. I leave it to the public to contemplate that one.

More importantly, there is a need to look at the issue with compassion, but at the same time plan for practicalities. Primarily, what do we do with the Rohingya already in Malaysia, and what will we do for those who will make their way here in the future?

I raised this question a few years back when they took to boats during the last series of violence on their villages, and it seems we are nowhere near a solution.

Should we take them in and offer them work in rural areas?

In January, Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed announced a pilot programme to hire 300 Rohingya. How well has this programme gone so far?

With more and more Malaysian companies now talking about a shortage of foreign labour, could the Rohingya be the solution to our woes? An offer of asylum status for labour is a sound idea, especially if it comes with tax breaks and ensures the payment of a minimum wage.

But at the same time, this must be said – the issue is not limited to just the Rohingya, but a huge population from Myanmar. Figures from the UNHCR as of June show that we have a total of 132,500 refugees from Myanmar – made up of 59,100 Rohingya, 38,200 Chins, 9,900 Myanmar Muslims, 4,200 Rakhines, Arakanese, and other ethnic groups.

Just a side note, the discrimination in Myanmar is not just against the Muslims, but also against Christians. We should be offering all of those fleeing the violence the same treatment.

Of course, there will be those who wish to avoid leaving Kuala Lumpur to work in rural areas, but many should be willing to earn an honest income and live here temporarily as refugees.

At the same time, it would also help if the government allows businesses to employ those already here while putting diplomatic pressure on Myanmar.

I find it odd that there are Malaysians who are against offering refugees shelter and help to move on. It is as if we do not know our history.

We are made up of refugees, migrant workers, asylum seekers and even economic migrants from India, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, southern Thailand and Vietnam. We are a nation of migrants, and we always have been unless you somehow have orang asli blood in your veins.

Thus, to say that we should not accept the Rohingya because a group of them protested for their homeland, were unruly and caused traffic jams – well, to protest for a legitimate cause is a part of the freedom of speech and expression.

Let us offer them shelter and work while they are here.

The Rohingya have seen enough violence and experienced enough trauma for a lifetime.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com