The plight of the Rohingya

The stateless Rohingyas have nowhere else to run to, and have come to us for our humanity - JAGDESH SINGH

Rohingya plight – Photo: Amnesty International
By Jagdesh Singh | OPINION |

Like you, I’m sitting at home, in the safe comforts of it, with my loved ones, slightly worried about how things are going to turn out economically. We sit in peace, the only fear worth brooding over about is the possibility off getting infected with the Covid-19 virus somehow and surviving it. And then, we ponder if we will have income in the coming months when the economy is in a shape never seen before. In short, uncertainty is the only discomfort.

There’s nobody trying to persecute us. Nobody trying to find us from our hiding. Nobody trying to chase us away from our homes. Nobody trying to harm our children. And there’s nobody hating us for our religious beliefs. We have the luxury of peace and the means to prosper as families and as minorities in the country we make a living in. Yet, I sometimes think we do take this for granted.

For Sikhs, we have hand-me-down tales and memories of similar persecution during the times of our Gurus, where we had our own militia formed to fight back. Running away wasn’t really an option, for some reason. Children and women were many a times the casualties of war. Until we lived the Golden age of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The hardship and pain of religious persecution as a minority has been ingrained in our psyche, making us a tad more sensitive when ever so faced with the slightest indication of our religious beliefs being questioned.

Early in the 20th century, while the world fought it’s Wars, immigration via the seas was rampant. As empires crumbled, economies collapsed, pushing migrants from India and China to seek opportunities and peace in countries like Malaysia. My grandfathers ran away from absolute poverty and hunger to start their families here in the then Malaya. Many ran away from persecution, many ran away just to survive from poverty, without the dreams of green grass or gold. Ask any of the minorities in Malaysia, you will hear these typical tales recounted, handed down to their children and grandchildren.

Today, we prosper under the blanket of citizenship and the safety that comes along with the country being relatively safe, and any semblance of persecution on the minorities are answered through the voice of democracy. Yet, with our sensitivities of our forefathers seeking shelter in this country in the last century, we seem to have built an immunity towards treating other humans escaping the very same persecution that pushed them to escape their home countries.

Most recently, the Rohingyas of Burma have literally spilled into our shores, dying of hunger while hoping for some safety for their families. While some made it to the refugee camps in our country, a few were turned back into the perils of the seas, with no direction to turn towards but certain death. We justified our actions of turning them back by pointing out the dangers of contamination amidst this global pandemic. There’s a curve we need to flatten.

You might say that I should get off my high horse, and if it really mattered, you would’ve questioned my sincerity by asking if I would house these refugees in my own home and risk contraction of the Covid-19 virus with my family. And you’re probably right. But our humanity as a country and as a government would’ve figured a way to help these refugees, if there was any will whatsoever. If there’s a will, there’s a way, I’m sure of it.

And then, there’s the Rohingya refugees that already made it here before the pandemic. Some have already begun assuming some semblance of citizenship of our dear country, enjoying benefits that even the minorities are hard to come by. If there’s any truth to this, of which I’m very wary of, I would say that questions are to be asked of our administrative government to the loopholes that allow this imbalance of rights. Still, I suspect that this is more the exception than the rule.

In a recent statement, Mercy Malaysia points out: “Because Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the country does not have a legal framework regulating the status and rights of refugees. This simply means that refugees are regarded as illegal or undocumented migrants, and they do not have legal access to employment, education, healthcare or protection.

“This failure to accord refugee status has resulted in more harm than good, where there is no administrative framework for the implementation of refugee law nor protection laws that recognizes and acknowledges their presence in this country.”

In other words, there is no way an illegal immigrant, which is what the stateless Rohingyas are, can access even the bare necessities of healthcare during this vicious pandemic that we’re in. They have nowhere else to run to, and have come to us for our humanity.

And our humanity is more so relevant when we remember how our forefathers came to be hardworking citizens of his country less than a century ago. We should be as sensitive, as minorities, and as grateful for our existence in this country, had it not been to the humanity that allowed our forefathers the opportunities they craved.

Our memories, our sensitivities and our backgrounds demand that we treat other humans who are suffering and running away from the evils of persecution as how we would treat any other humans. If we can’t help them directly, at the very least, help them by not being selfish to think that they’re here to steal our dreams and our peace. This is what makes us humane. This is what makes us human. Remember, just like our forefathers, they never had a choice nor the luxury of peace that we take for granted in our homes.

Jagdesh Singh, a Kuala Lumpur-based executive with a US multinational company, is a father of three girls who are as opinionated as their mother

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.



SikhInside, Rabba Mereya and my digital Vaisakhi (Asia Samachar, 17 April 2020)

ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond. Facebook | WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 | Email: | Twitter | Instagram | Obituary announcements, click here |