Santiago: Let’s help Rohingya on our turf

Last Updated on June 11, 2018, 7:13 p.m.

PETALING JAYA: A human rights group has urged Putrajaya to show Malaysia’s concern for the Rohingya of Myanmar by ratifying the United Nations convention on refugees.

Klang MP Charles Santiago, who chairs the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said the government would gain international credibility in its call for an end to the persecution of Myanmar’s Muslims if it were to commit itself to humane treatment of refugees within its borders, many of whom are Rohingya.

Santiago’s call came as a follow up to a statement he made last February, in which he urged Asean to use its international influence to bring about an arms embargo against Myanmar, noting that the regime’s main arms suppliers were China and India.

In his latest statement to FMT, he acknowledged that even the new government in Putrajaya would find it hard to pressure Asean to abandon its policy of non-interference if it were to do so without the support of other partners in the regional bloc.

“There’s little Malaysia can do on its own, but we can hope that Dr Mahathir Mohamad can get neighbours to act as well,” he said, but added that he wasn’t optimistic.

However, he said, Malaysia’s inability to bring about an end to the persecution in Myanmar should not stop it from ratifying the UN convention and thus taking responsibility for the welfare of refugees in the country, including those fleeing from Myanmar.

“Refugees come here not because they love Malaysia but because they are running away from political persecution,” he said. “Once they are here, they should be able to find employment.

“We’re not talking about just the Rohingya. We have have people from all over the world – from Pakistan, from India, from Indonesia, from Syria, from Palestine. Many are professionals, such as scientists and doctors. They can actually contribute positively to the economy.”

Also in February, a report by News Deeply quoted Malaysian Social Research Institute counsellor Ronald Sutedja as saying that Malaysia was a “living hell” for refugees.

Santiago said Malaysia’s ratification of the UN convention would obligate the government to ensure decent lives for refugees in the country.

“We need to let them work and we also need to pay them enough wages,” he said.

Asked to comment on the concern that opening the gates for refugees would worsen worries over the lack of job opportunities for locals, Santiago said a plan to reduce migrant workers should go hand in hand with a relaxation of controls against the entry of refugees.

“Both the previous government and the current government have said they want to reduce the number of migrant workers because there are too many of them and they’re depressing local wages,” he noted.

He said there were differences between migrant workers and refugees, one of which was in the amount of time they intended to stay in the country.

“The refugees who come here won’t stay here for more than four or five years. They’re looking for a third country to go to. Migrant workers can stay here for up to 10 years, sometimes.”

Santiago pointed out that he had been bringing up the refugee issue since before Pakatan Harapan came to power and said he had no intention of stopping.

“In my capacity as an MP, I will keep bringing up the issue in the Dewan Rakyat.”

Last October, the then home minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, was quoted as saying that the government had no intention of signing the convention on refugees.

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