PPBM leader slammed for “baseless, racist, politicking” of Rohingyas 

A Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) leader who said refugees should be taught about the “boundaries” they should maintain with locals and sidelined over job opportunities has been criticised for making “baseless” and “racist” remarks.

Earlier today, Malaysiakini reported Segambut PPBM division chief Mahathir Mohd Rais as claiming that Malaysians were finding it challenging to mingle and accept the “rough and unclean lifestyles” of refugee groups, singling out the Rohingyas in particular.

The Federal Territories Perikatan Nasional (PN) information chief added that the Government should fix the country’s economic issues to increase employment opportunities for locals and only consider employing refugees when there are “enough jobs”.

Refugee rights activist Mahi Ramakrishnan, however, noted that Mahathir was making many allegations and asked if these were supported by research and if he could provide facts and figures to back his claims. 

Mahathir Mohd Rais

“It’s been an open secret for decades that Malaysians not just shy away from certain jobs but also cross borders to neighbouring Singapore to look for better employment opportunities,” she told FocusM.

“We also have a severe brain drain,” she added. “Just look around you and you will see restaurants shutting early because of the lack of workers.”

Mahi said there are professionals, skilled and unskilled workers among refugees, and they would bring added value to society and the local job market if opportunities are created for them to work legally in the country.

“The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) is open to the idea,” she noted. “So, why is Mahathir opposing it?”

As for Mahathir’s warning of more refugees flooding into the country due to the change in global political and economic climates, Mahi said he was “clearly ignorant”, as internal conflicts, wars and persecution – not economic outlooks – force people to flee.

“Downright racism”

The founder of the Beyond Borders Malaysia refugee-interest non-profit also slammed the PPBM leader for singling out the Rohingya as being “dirty” and claiming that Malaysians are uneasy in interacting with them because they are “rough”, saying this was “downright racism” and should not be condoned. 

Mahi Ramakrishnan (Photo credit: Kenny Loh)

“How many Rohingyas does Mahathir know?” she asked. “How many times has he interacted with them? Don’t we have Malaysians with uncouth behaviour? 

“These statements are unwarranted and clearly a political positioning ahead of an imminent general election,” she added.

Mahi called for the rights of refugees to be protected, a stop to threats to close down the local UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office and for refugees to be able to live with dignity.

To do so, refugees must be allowed to work towards integration, ensured a safe passage to an asylum instead of immigration detention centres and those who make divisive comments against refugees reprimanded.

North-South Initiative executive director Adrian Pereira, on the other hand, said Mahathir’s statement clearly shows that many Malaysians have yet to understand the predicament refugees and asylum seekers face here. 

“As there has been no overarching legal framework to ensure their protection and temporary settlement here, this leads to the various challenges for them and families to live a dignified life,” he told FocusM.

“Malaysia not having such a framework in place resulted in the infringement on the refugees’ natural rights – which everyone should have, regardless of documentation status – and hence why there has been no progress in accessing rights over the past many years.”

Adrian Pereira

As to the question of understanding each other, Adrian said local councils and local residents’ associations must play a proactive role by facilitating dialogues between all people living in an area and engaging cultural experts who have the skills and knowledge to do so.

“However, due to various anti-refugee propaganda online, Malaysians are falling for the ‘fake news’ that refugees are dirty and rude,” he noted, adding that in his 20 years of working with refugees, he has never met any refugee who was “dirty” and “rude”.

As for work for refugees, Adrian said since there are plenty of job opportunities and even opportunities to create new jobs, the question of there not being enough jobs should not arise. 

“We have to develop a world-view which encourages us to share resources and live as a global citizen in a globalised world,” he said. 

“Imagine if one day the global community tells all Malaysian expatriates to go home. That would not be nice. The same applies for migrants and refugees here.” – Sept 17, 2022.


Main photo credit: Reuters

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