Human rights groups condemn poster portraying Rohingya migrants as a threat

The poster by the Immigration Department on Facebook and Twitter on June 12, with captions in Malay that reads: “migran etnik Rohingya kedatangan anda tidak diundang”.
The poster by the Immigration Department on Facebook and Twitter on June 12, with captions in Malay that reads: “migran etnik Rohingya kedatangan anda tidak diundang”.

The Malaysian Human Rights Commission has joined Amnesty International Malaysia in condemning a poster by the Immigration Department that portrayed the Rohingya community as a national security threat. 

The commission, also known as Suhakam, weighed in on the matter two days after the poster was put up online by the department on Saturday and later removed. The poster was meant to act as a reminder to ethnic Rohingya migrants that they were not welcomed in Malaysia, following the government’s announcement to detain undocumented persons. 

“The government must rethink its approach to the situation to avoid further infringements on human rights principles or aggravating the current public health crises,” Suhakam said.  

The poster had depicted armed enforcement officers in the foreground of people on boats, with a caption in Malay that translated to: “Ethnic Rohingya migrants, your arrival is not welcomed.”

It was posted to Twitter and Facebook weeks after Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin announced large-scale operations to detain undocumented migrants during the Movement Control Order lockdown, before adjusting his statement, later on, to say that it was for vaccination purposes. 

Amnesty International Malaysia reacted to the poster on Saturday, calling it “particularly grotesque,” especially coming from “leaders who will crow to the international community about their concern for Palestinians one week, then in the next breath threaten violence against others who are traumatized and displaced.” The Foreign Affairs Ministry had on May 17 urged the United Nations General Assembly to convene a session on ending hostilities between Israel and Palestine. 

Amnesty also called on the Malaysian government to explain why it chose to attack people in need during the pandemic. 

While Malaysia had spoken out against xenophobia on the international stage, authorities should do the same towards migrants on home soil, Suhakam said in its statement. 

“Since Malaysia is not a state party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its Optional Protocol of 1967, its national laws do not differentiate between refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented migrants, and often they are mistakenly considered as a matter of national security concern,” Suhakam said, noting that undocumented migrants tend to be exposed to exploitation and arrest due to their lack of legal status. 

“Instilling fear through threats of arrests and detention of undocumented foreigners is counterproductive,” Suhakam added. Rohingya refugees in Malaysia, along with other migrants and asylum seekers, have also shared about being the target of rising xenophobia and racism in the past year. 

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