Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Rohingya in Malaysia, doubly trapped

For some people living in the Ampang district in eastern Kuala Lumpur, self-isolation is nothing new. The area is known for its concentration of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, nestled in the grimy apartments and neighbourhoods of this former tin mining centre, and they haven't been going out for a while. The Rohingya are generally tolerated here, but here as elsewhere across the country, they are denied any real rights or protection from authorities, abuse, rape and kidnapping.

Now, improbably, the need to stay home just got more urgent: the same “corona panic” that has gripped many countries around the world has taken root as well in Malaysia.

Panics have a way of seeking out victims, and the Rohingya in Malaysia have been easy targets. In a now too-familiar fashion, social media has provided the means to misinform and inflame.

The thugs and gangs who regularly rumble Rohingya refugees in Malaysia need little prompting at the best of times. Now the trigger points are in abundance.

The latest episode seems to have been ignited by a video, released in mid-April and aired widely on Facebook, which apparently shows a Rohingya refugee man demanding citizenship and other rights for Rohingya in Malaysia. The video appears now to have been taken down.

Those in the Rohingya community seem confused about the source of the alleged video. Some say it was planted by anyone from local thugs to “higher-ups”. Others believe it never existed in the first place.

Either way, the video, real or not, has led anti-Rohingya elements to rachet up abuse online and ­– notwithstanding the anti-Covid isolation laws known as the Movement Control Order (MCO) – in public.

Part of the problem is that most Rohingya, struggling at the best of times as undocumented workers, have been unable to generate income under the MCO restrictions. Some, when they have ventured out to earn money, have been attacked for not following the protocols.

As in many countries, confusion and panic are rife. In the absence of clear messages and leadership, the Rohingya have become both the victims of the MCO restrictions and easy scapegoats.

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