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It is rather disappointing and shocking in 2020 to read that a Malaysian writer and journalist is asking the Rohingyas — the most persecuted minority in the world — to be thankful for not being put on an island camp, and using factual errors and xenophobic remarks to provoke the Malaysian public against one of the most deprived communities in the world.

Yes, I am referring to an article by Norman Fernandez titled “Time to repatriate Rohingyas” that was published by Malay Mail on April 27, 2020.

I don’t know Fernandez, and I have never met him in person. I wrote this for one reason only, claiming the right of free expression and the right of reply for those who don’t have a voice.

So, starting with facts: Saying that none of the 57 OIC countries have come forward to provide refuge for the Rohingyas in such numbers as Malaysia is simply wrong. Bangladesh which is an OIC member has more than 1,300,000 Rohingyas, Pakistan has more than 350,000, Saudi Arabia has more than 190,000, and UAE has more than 50,000. Even western countries like the US have more than 12,000 Rohingyas!

The article continues to be more surprising by mentioning the Vietnamese refugees back in 1975 while talking about refugee camps and moving restrictions against refugees as if it is something normal. Fernandez is not happy because the Rohingyas are not on a “Hell Island” as the Vietnamese refugees back then.

Next, Fernandez decides to denounce the Rohingya community in Malaysia for asking basic human rights such as the right to work, and have access to education, and says they are “Not realising that their presence here are as REFUGEES.”

Apparently, Fernandez never read or heard about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or knew anything about the human rights of refugees. Moreover, he builds his argument on fake news and videos posted by cyber troopers on social media in a pathetic attempt to prove his point.

Then moves to a racist generalising comparison between Indonesian workers and Rohingyas just to condemn a whole community in a very racist manner not based on any facts or logic. Not to forget using a failed plantation jobs project by the BN government as “Proof” to his racist remarks.

Rohingyas don’t prefer handouts as the article claims. They prefer to have basic human rights like the right to work and gain their livelihood, and the Malaysian government does not pay a single ringgit to the Rohingyas or any other refugees as an aid. Refugees in Malaysia don’t receive financial aid from the government or UNHCR. They work under the danger of being detained, facing Malaysian employers abuse and extortion to gain their livelihood, and even those who don’t work they only receive help from NGOs and what Fernandez likes to call “Right do-gooders.”

In fact, refugees, if given the right to work in Malaysia, could contribute RM3 billion to the Malaysian economy by 2024 through higher spending, according to a report by think tank IDEAS in 2019.

“In addition to boosting GDP, allowing refugees to work would lead to an increase in tax revenues, with a total contribution estimated at RM50 million each year by 2024,” report says.

No one is facilitating Rohingya’s entry to Malaysia, these are people who are escaping proved and documented genocide, rape, and arrests. These are people who are not recognised by their own country and have nowhere to go, and no one in the world has the right to call them “economic refugees” just by of a childish measure of kilometers and comparing the space between Myanmar, Thailand, and Malaysia.

Fernandez calls an “Investment” in reference to the money Rohingya refugees pay to the smugglers. These people jump into the trafficker’s boats, penniless. They are held in trafficking camps and abused until they are able to pay up.

No one pays this amount of money and puts themselves and their children in danger for an “Investment.” Unless death is behind you, you wouldn’t face the sea in a wooden boat to make an “Investment.”

I come from Syria, a country with millions of refugees, the country of “Alan Kurdi” and I know exactly what I’m talking about. The pains and suffering of refugees is not an economic plan, it is not an “Assured investment,” Fernandez.

They don’t have savings and usually jump into the trafficker’s boats, penniless. They are held in trafficking camps and abused until they are able to pay up. Many have friends and relatives in Malaysia and often use trafficker’s phone to call them and ask them to arrange for the cash which is usually about RM8,000.

So to answer Fernandez’s question “Why do you Rohingyas insist on being in Malaysia”: To escape the horrifying death back in their own land. I hope that is clear enough of an answer.

Using examples of Rohingyas who got arrested for “ISIS terror-linked activities” to accuse all the community of being a possible threat of terror and violence is sickening. How can a journalist use individual wrongdoings to generalise against a whole community and provoke hate against them without having any shame!

This argument works both ways by the way. Let me remind you that many Malaysian citizens went to Syria to fight along with ISIS and are still stuck there. Do you think it’s logical to call all Malaysians “terrorists” because of this? I do not believe so.

The disgusting xenophobia continues as the article asks Malay Muslims to “Seriously think” about the percussions of Rohingyas marrying Malays as it will result in sharing their special rights and privileges and maybe we will see Rohyngias having citizenship and studying at Malaysian universities!

Fernandez is asking Malays to be afraid of being a country that believes in human rights and the principles of citizenship, and he wants them to think about the impacts of treating fellow humans kindly and equally. If this is not xenophobia, racism, and hate speech then I don’t know what is.

Ignoring documented and proved genocide against innocent civilian Rohingyas, Mr. Fernandez claims that persecution against Muslims in Myanmar is a “Fallacy” because other Muslim groups are still living in the country.

Then goes to say that all other Muslim minorities are living in harmony with the Buddhist majority, and states that Rohingyas themselves are not innocent and Malaysians know about “Rohingyas terror acts against Buddhist.”

While documented genocide is only “terrible acts of violence” and Rohyngia do “terror acts” according to Fernandez, I can only say that the definition of “Terror” for him depends on your colour, ethnicity and if you reside in Malaysia or not.

“The words of Dr Mahathir (then the Deputy Prime Minister) come to mind when on June 15, 1979, he said that the government will shoot the (Vietnamese) boats and if they try to drown the boats (we) will not help.”

Maybe it is better to shoot them this time! So xenophobes will feel safer about their own insecurities and imaginary fears.

I have no more words to describe how wrong and xenophobic “Time to repatriate Rohingya” is, and it is really scary and depressing to see the amount of hate speech and xenophobia happening in Malaysia these days.

In a time of a world pandemic when we need to stand together the most, Xenophobes decide to attack and blacken the sky of Malaysia, a land many refugees including me once called a “New home.”

Wael Qarssifi is a Syrian journalist living in Malaysia since 2017.

NB: The article is solely the writer’s opinion. It doesn’t represent Rohingya Vision’s editorial policy.