The Return Journey: Malaysia and the Migrant Crisis

As mentioned in a previous article, the controversy around the issue of refugees in Malaysia has been solidly resolved by the Malaysian government. From this, the Malaysian government have asked for the return of over 300 Rohingya refugees. Said refugees had been detained that week, it has been stated by the Malaysian Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

This comes at a time of great difficulty between Malaysia and Myanmar, not just politically but also with the paranoia that has been magnified by the coronavirus. Malaysia has been a greatly favoured destination for Rohingya refugees due to the proximity of both nations, as well as Malaysia being a predominantly Muslim nation. The reason for this exodus is very complex and involves a combination of factors. This is especially the case when considering the 2017 military crackdowns within Myanmar towards the Rohingya minority, along with the disease filled refugee camps across the border in Bangladesh.

However, the Malaysian government has since stated that it will no longer keep accepting refugees as a response to further border controls due to the coronavirus. “The Rohingya should know, if they come here, they cannot stay,” the minister, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, told reporters.

The Malaysian government will now ask Dhaka to take any detained refugees if they are found to have been individuals who have fled any of Bangladesh’s refugee camps. On Monday, Malaysian authorities arrested some 260 plus Rohingya from a damaged boat near the Malaysian island of Langkawi, an island off the north western coast of mainland Malaysia.

Alongside this, the Malaysian government has asked for migrants to be placed on the island of Bhasan Char, where Bangladesh has already placed refugees. This is something that Defence Minister Ismail Sabri has greatly supported. In addition to this, Malaysia also has plans to ask the United Nations to place Rohingya migrants into a third country.

In contrast, Dhaka has stated that “the refugees were the responsibility of Myanmar”. It was also stated by a government official that “why don’t they ask Myanmar to take them back?”.

Overall, what this presents is a further complex relationship between all three parties. If Malaysia continues to pursue its hitherto policies, it might set a regional precedent among regional Southeast Asian nations. This is because the issue of refugee crises and migrant movements within the last fifty years has encompassed the whole region, sparking further debate around transnational issues. This will become increasingly relevant regarding the spread of the coronavirus, along with the fears it has produced around border security.

Featured image credit: New York Times