KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s government is facing domestic censure for turning back 200 Rohingya refugees who sought to enter the country during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Friday, the Malaysian Bar Council, a lawyers’ organization, said it was “deeply disheartened” by the government’s refusal to allow a boatload of Rohingya disembark at Langkawi, a Malaysian island, on February 16, describing the pushback as a violation of international legal norms against turning away refugees.
On Thursday, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim urged authorities to allow refugee boats to dock.
The Rohingya are a minority Muslim ethnic group that has been subjected to what the United Nations describes as “genocide” at the hands of the military in Myanmar, their home country.
Since late 2016, around a million have fled Myanmar, to Bangladesh.
From there, many have attempted to reach Malaysia, where refugees are categorized as undocumented migrants.
Malaysia is six weeks into a lockdown that includes restrictions on internal travel and the closing of the country’s borders.
Mohd Daud Sulaiman, president of the Malaysian Relief Agency, which runs education and health programmes to assist Rohingya already in Malaysia, said that “refugee communities are badly affected” by the lockdown.
Mercy Malaysia, which provides food to migrants unable to work during the lockdown, stated on Friday that it was “alarmed and saddened” by a now-deleted online petition that urged Malaysians to “Say No to Rohingya.”
Some 202 Rohingya made it ashore in northern Malaysia on April 5 and have been given shelter and medical treatment. Two Rohingya men were arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of human trafficking related to the disembarkation.Show