More than 500 Rohingya refugees escape detention in Malaysia; six killed crossing highway

Malaysia, which has a Muslim-majority population, is a preferred destination for Muslim Rohingya fleeing from Myanmar or those seeking to escape misery in refugee camps in Bangladesh

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Wednesday, April 20, 2022, 11:23 AM IST
article-image
In this photo released by the Malaysia Royal Police, police detain Rohingya refugees who had escaped from the Sungai Bakap Temporary Immigration Depot, Penang, Malaysia, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022 | Royal Malaysia Police via AP

More than 500 Rohingya refugees escaped from detention in Malaysia early Wednesday following a protest but most have been rearrested, immigration officials said.

The Immigration Department said 528 Rohingya fled after breaking a block door and barrier grill at a temporary detention center in northern Penang state. Police and other agencies were deployed and 362 detainees have been rearrested, the department said in a statement.

“The search for the remaining detainees is continuing,” it said, without giving further details on what sparked the breakout.

Penang police chief Mohamad Shuhaily Mohamad Zain told local media that six detainees were killed while trying to cross a highway. He was quoted as saying the victims were two men, two women, a boy and a girl.

Malaysia, which has a Muslim-majority population, is a preferred destination for Muslim Rohingya fleeing from Myanmar or those seeking to escape misery in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Malaysia doesn’t grant refugee status, but the country houses some 180,000 refugees and asylum seekers accredited with the UNHCR, including more than 100,000 Rohingya and other Myanmar ethnic groups. Thousands more stay undocumented after arriving in the country illegally by sea.

Malaysia treats most Rohingya as illegal migrants even though the UNHCR has given them refugee cards. As a result, many live without any official status in their own communities and work cheaply for local businesses without much interaction with locals.

Fortify Rights have also documented cases of extortion by Malaysian police, exploitation by predatory employers, and other abuses. There are also reports that protection mechanisms in Malaysia are not strong for undocumented workers and some Rohingya have ended up in "slavery-like conditions."

Despite these risks and limitations, many Rohingya seem to view Malaysia as a more attractive destination than neighboring Indonesia.

Most of the Rohingya who have traveled to Indonesia do not see it as a destination, but as a jumping off point to get to Australia, which has maintained a very hard-line on illegal immigrants, recently towing refugee boats back to the high seas.

Malaysia has formally asked the ten-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to recognize the Rohingya situation. However, Myanmar has blocked attempts to discuss the issue at a regional level, leaving the issue unresolved to this day. And now that the migrant crisis has reached a new level, it seems that Kuala Lumpur alongside other Southeast Asian governments have little appetite to provide a sanctuary for thousands of desperate migrants.

As of May 2021, there were an estimated 179,570 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia. The majority – a total of 154,840 – were from Myanmar, including 102,950 Rohingya people, 22,490 ethnic Chins, and 29,400 from other ethnic groups fleeing persecution or conflict-affected areas.

Malaysia has not yet ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The absence of a legal framework for recognising refugees and asylum seekers has created problematic and exploitative conditions for refugees and asylum seekers because they lack formal rights to work, they do not have legal status, they do not benefit from any legal protection and they continue to remain at risk of arrest, detention, and refoulement.

(with inputs from AP)

(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. To receive it on Telegram, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)

RECENT STORIES

WT20 Challenge final: Supernovas beat Velocity in thriller to clinch title despite Laura Wolvaardt's...

WT20 Challenge final: Supernovas beat Velocity in thriller to clinch title despite Laura Wolvaardt's...

Mumbai: No water supply in western suburbs on THIS date

Mumbai: No water supply in western suburbs on THIS date

Cordelia Cruise drug bust case: Aryan Khan's older ‘weed’ chats ignored by SIT

Cordelia Cruise drug bust case: Aryan Khan's older ‘weed’ chats ignored by SIT

Western Railway to de-reserve some general class coaches in specifed trains to deal with summer rush...

Western Railway to de-reserve some general class coaches in specifed trains to deal with summer rush...

Four cases of B.A. 4 variant, three cases of B.A. 5 variant of Omicron detected in Maharashtra's...

Four cases of B.A. 4 variant, three cases of B.A. 5 variant of Omicron detected in Maharashtra's...