Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Friday said that his country can no longer take in Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar, saying that Malaysia is already struggling on an economical front due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
For persecuted Rohingya seeking a better life after fleeing a military-led crackdown in Myanmar and refugee camps in Bangladesh, Muslim-majority Malaysia is a favored destination.
But Malaysia, which does not recognize refugee status, has recently turned away boats and detained hundreds of Rohingya, amid rising anger towards foreigners accused of spreading the coronavirus and taking up scarce state funds.
“We can no longer take more as our resources and capacity are already stretched, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Muhyiddin said in teleconference with other leaders of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Myanmar.
“Yet, Malaysia is unfairly expected to do more to accommodate incoming refugees,” he asserted.
The treatment of Rohingya has been divisive for ASEAN, with its two Muslim-majority members – Malaysia and Indonesia – criticizing Buddhist-majority Myanmar and expressing growing frustration with Rohingya arriving on boats operated by people smugglers.
Myanmar denies abuses against members of the minority in Rakhine State, in western Myanmar, but says the Rohingya are not citizens but illegal immigrants from South Asia.
Muhyiddin urged the UN refugee agency to speed up the resettlement of Rohingya in Malaysia to third countries. The agency says there are more than 100,000 Rohingya in Malaysia though rights groups say the number is higher.
He also called for more efforts to combat the trafficking of Rohingya, who he said were increasingly at risk for exploitation, slavery and recruitment by militants.
“ASEAN must do more to help Myanmar, and Myanmar must also do more to help itself for this crisis to be put behind us,” he said.