Malaysia and Its Migrant Corona Crisis

Military and police stand guard with protective face masks at an entrance to the City One condominium as it has been placed under a lockdown after recording 17 COVID-19 cases in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The Malaysian government issued a restricted movement order to the public till April 15, to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Since the start of the coronavirus, Southeast Asia has seen many difficult issues and problems arise in addition to ones it already has, one of these being the increasing levels of discrimination and racism of certain minority groups. Within recent days, this has become more transparent within Malaysia and its population of Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar. Like many countries around the world struggling with the coronavirus, Malaysia and its economy is also having to cope with the economic impact of the virus. With the nation’s moderate size of Rohingya refugees within it, many Malaysian citizens have become angry at the time and resources being given to this group.

Due to this, many Malaysians have started mass petitions and online campaigns calling for the deportation of these refugees. On the 16th April, Malaysian security forces turned away several boats full of hundreds of Rohingya refugees, with the Malaysian air force fearing fleeing refugees could bring in more coronavirus cases to Malaysia.

While other Southeast Asian nations are also facing a full-frontal battle with the global pandemic, Malaysia is now dealing with political pressure on both sides of Malaysian politics concerned with its handling of Rohingya refugees. Both sides consist of those who either want the Rohingyas to be taken in by the government or of others demanding that the Malaysian government use its resources for its own citizens instead.

Malaysia has been in the past a popular destination for Rohingyas due its perceived friendly nature within the Islamic world. Alongside this, the nation is well known for its relative wealth and peacefulness, with many Rohingya refugees even having existing family in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s ruling political party is that of the Perikatan Nasional (National Alliance) coalition, which have recently defended their actions of turning away refugee boats. Anwar Ibrahim, one of the leaders of the opposition and hotly tipped to be a possible future prime minister for Malaysia, compared the issues of the Rohingyas to that of the Palestinians; calling for special housing to be provided for them.

The Perikatan Nasional only recently came to power in Malaysia through a political crisis in March this year. Broadly speaking, they have been against the acceptance of more Rohingya refugees in Malaysia. One example of this was during the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar, which saw the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas to other nations including Malaysia. Malaysia itself had at first showed little resistance, eventually agreeing to give the refugees housing. A year later in 2016, Prime Minister Najib Razak held a mass protest towards anti-Rohingya persecution and ASEAN’s (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) internal procedure of non-interference within fellow member states.

However, the former Prime Minister Najib is now disgraced and is on trial for alleged abuses of power and financial misconduct. Najib Razak is himself a member of the Umno party (which is a key member of the Perikatan Nasional coalition), which in recent years has changed its stance over the refugee population in Malaysia. What this could show is that Malaysia might soon change its recent policies over refugees and the resources it has given, presenting a difficult position for both parties.