Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad recently said the government would no longer support the leadership of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi over her handling of the Rohingya crisis in her country.
Noting that she was now a changed person, he also condemned her for staying quiet on the targeted persecution against the Muslim minority by Myanmar’s military junta.
We need more world leaders to make such strong, powerful statements.
The Rohingya are described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted people in the world.
But the intergovernmental organisation tasked with promoting international cooperation, and creating and maintaining international order, hasn’t been able to do much because of the veto power enjoyed by China, Russia, France, the US and the UK – permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
Mahathir did not let up on this when he spoke about shaming the superpowers into letting go of their veto power at the recent United Nations General Assembly.
But closer to home, the Malaysian government must also lobby its Asean counterparts to exert pressure on Myanmar to stop the violence against the Rohingya and give them back their citizenship.
Malaysia can and should take a leading role in this initiative as it plays host to almost 200,000 Rohingya and has been vocal about their mistreatment.
We need to send a clear message to the junta that the targeted abuse of its own people is unacceptable, violates their human rights and transgresses international human rights laws.
We have some half a million refugees in Malaysia and we need a comprehensive refugee policy that looks at access to gainful employment, healthcare and structured education for each and every one of them.
This must be done without further delay as the signing and ratification of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, promised by Pakatan Harapan in its election manifesto, is a long process.
Meanwhile, the refugees, including the Rohingya, are subjected to harassment by the police and immigration, have no means of feeding their families or educating their children and cannot afford to pay the high costs at government hospitals.
Just as Mahathir was stern about his non-cooperation with Suu Kyi, the government also needs to have the political will to promote and protect the rights of refugees here.
And this must be done immediately.
Charles Santiago is MP for Klang
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.