PETALING JAYA: Former prime minister Najib Razak has backed the controversial action by the authorities in pushing back Rohingya refugees trying to land on Malaysian shores last week, some four years after leading a rally condemning Myanmar’s policies against the persecuted minority.
The incident last week drew criticism from human rights groups following reports that about two dozen refugees in a boat stranded at sea had died of starvation as a result of being denied entry.
In remarks posted on Facebook, Najib hit out at those who called on refugees in Malaysia to be given help as the community bears the brunt of the Covid-19 lockdown nationwide.
He said Malaysia had already done a lot for them.
“Sudah diberikan betis, nak peha pulak,” he quoted a Malay saying which is similar to the English expression “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile”.
“We are not cruel, but until when do we need to resolve this problem which began in the 1990s?”
He said Asean member states should also take responsibility in helping the Rohingya.
His remarks come amid a spike in xenophobic comments on social media targeted at the Rohingya, following appeals for help from activists to feed tens of thousands of the refugee community living in pockets of Kuala Lumpur, which have come under the enhanced movement control order (EMCO), effectively banning all forms of movement and business activities.
Authorities have said they expect foreign embassies to help their citizens in locked-down areas.
But the Rohingya are not recognised as citizens by the Myanmar government and there are fears they will face starvation in the absence of aid from the Malaysian authorities.
Last week, rights groups criticised the action by authorities in pushing back some 500 Rohingya trying to make their way into Malaysian waters after being stranded for weeks at sea.
Some 30 refugees reportedly died of starvation as a result, before the others were rescued by Bangladeshi coast guards.
The violence against Rohingya Muslims, who the United Nations considers the most persecuted minority in the world, had led to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya seeking shelter in neighbouring countries.
There are an estimated 200,000 Rohingya refugees in Malaysia, but they have been denied legal employment as the government does not recognise them as refugees.
In 2016, Najib led a rally to highlight the plight of the Rohingya people, condemning the Myanmar government as well as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi over her silence in voicing out against the violence targeted at the Rohingya in the Arakan region.
“Myanmar says I am interfering in their personal business. I do not care,” Najib told a rally in Kuala Lumpur in December 2016, attended by thousands of supporters, including from PAS, then a political rival to Umno.
“We want to show Myanmar and tell Aung San Suu Kyi that enough is enough,” Najib had said. “I’m here today not as Najib Razak, but as a Malaysian and a Muslim. There is no assembly more honourable than that which is done for Islam.”
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