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The plight of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence and persecution has been troubling, and recent protests in Malaysia have only served to underscore this point. On August 30, over 1,000 ethnic Rohingya protested against the government and military oppression, leading to a surge of refugees fleeing the violence. The protests took place at the Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur. The scene was chaotic; police called on the group to disperse, and 44 Rohingya protesters were arrested.
Rohingya Muslims in Malaysia have suffered experiences of extreme hardship. According to the UNHCR, 59,100 of the 132,500 refugees from Myanmar seeking asylum in Malaysia are ethnic Rohingya. Malaysia’s immigrant detention centres have left many Rohingya facing inhumane conditions, including beatings, lack of adequate food and water, severe malnourishment, and lack of medical care. The UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found the conditions of Malaysia’s detention centres to be “catastrophic” in 2010. According to a Rohingya detainee interviewed by The Guardian, “only when someone was about to die would the guards come. Otherwise, if we complained, or if we asked to go to the hospital, they beat us.”
Oppression doesn’t end if Rohingya ever leave detention centres to be integrated into Malaysian society. Malaysia’s government is reluctant to afford Rohingya the right to work or the right for children to attend national schools. Moreover, Malaysia’s Peaceful Assembly Act of 2012 makes it illegal for non-citizens to assemble for any reason, even if peacefully, making the protests that occurred last week illegal.
Rohingya were first targeted in 1978 and again in the early 1990s. A surge of Rohingya have fled Bangladesh since October 2016. According to a report published by The Diplomat on September 7, more than 30,000 Rohingya are now living in established refugee camps in Bangladesh’s southeastern region, with many others living in makeshift accommodations. The United Nations estimates that 146,000 have fled Myanmar to seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh since August 25, 2017, alone, bringing the total of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to 233,000.
There has not been enough action on the issue by the international community, even though such oppressive measures have been repeated since 1978. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has called on countries such as Malaysia to address the treatment of Muslims in light of the Rohingya refugee influx. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been vocal about ending the inhumane treatment of Muslims. Just like other world leaders, however, he has done little of substance to address the issue or to change oppressive policy, such as improving detention centre conditions or granting Rohingya working rights.