Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Refugees are human beings!



In just two days, about two thousand asylum-seekers from Bangladesh and Myanmar, many of whom are Rohingyas, one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, landed in Indonesia and Malaysia. Thousands of them are believed still trapped at sea in crowded boats with limited or no fuel, water and food.

The issue of asylum-seekers and refugees, especially those fleeing from Myanmar is not something new. According to UNHCR, as of end February 2015, there are some 152,570 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia – 141,570 are from Myanmar. As Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not intend to be one as according to Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Shahidan Kassim, refugees are treated as the same as illegal immigrants. They will be arrested and detained and are often subjected to torture and abuse.

Stop producing refugees

As Indonesia and Malaysia now feel ‘burdened’ by the influx of these migrants where Indonesia even irresponsibly and inhumanely turned away a boat “full of people in dire conditions”, it is time for the Asean countries especially Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia to step up the pressure on Myanmar. This problem will certainly not able to be solved unless Myanmar is willing to stop ‘producing’ refugees.

It is time for us to tell Myanmar to stop persecuting the minorities. Myanmar should stop violating and abusing human rights for enough is enough!

Aung San Suu Kyi, speak up!

It is also time for Aung San Suu Kyi who is vying for the post of President of Myanmar to speak up. Being a potential President of Myanmar, who is also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and who was once a victim of persecution, there is no reason for Aung San Suu Kyi not to speak up. Her silence is deafening.

The Lady should pledge to solve this issue if she and her party come into power. When Aung San Suu Kyi was being persecuted, the whole world stood up for her. And it is now time for her to stand up for her own countrymen especially the minorities who are being persecuted. Once a victim of persecution, The Lady should understand better than anyone else the plights and feelings of those persecuted. Aung San Suu Kyi should use her influence to be the voice of the voiceless and the defender of the defenceless.

Stop persecuting the already persecuted

Malaysia on the other hand should stop persecuting the already persecuted. We should save these refugees who are fleeing from persecution and human rights abuses and give them necessary protection. Refugees are not the same as illegal economic migrants. They are here not to seek for better employment opportunities but to escape persecution and to survive.

Malaysia being the chair of Asean and a member of the United Nations Security Council should lead by example in helping these refugees and upholding human rights. We should not subject them to further abuse and persecution.

Refugees commit no crime. The only ‘wrongs’ that they have committed were probably that they were being born in the wrong country, wrong ethnicity or having and believing the ‘wrong’ religion.

In this 21st century, when we are talking and shouting about our rights and freedom, these refugees are denied the most basic and fundamental rights – the right to life, liberty and to live with dignity.

Human rights are for all human beings. Human rights should be something that all human beings are being entitled, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, religion, sex and status. And even if there is no such thing as ‘human rights’ for all human beings, there should be at least humanity, empathy and love.

Refugees are human beings. They are just like each and every one of us. They are not criminals. They are not terrorists. They are not here to harm us. They are here to survive.

I hope and pray that sanity and humanity will prevail. – May 13, 2015.

* Tan Zhong Yan reads The Malaysian Insider.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

- See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com