Search continues for escapees . . .
On Wednesday, 528 Rohingya refugees escaped from an immigration detention centre in Penang, Malaysia, after riots broke out. Six refugees, including two children, were killed along a highway after being struck by a passing vehicle. Police believe the riots may have been due to overcrowding at the centre, which allowed some detainees to escape. While 424 of the escapees have been arrested, police continue to search for the remaining 104. Roadblocks have been set up in the states of Penang and Kedah. Several hundred Rohingya refugees were relocated to different detention facilities following the incident.
Complicated refugee status . . .
Malaysia is home to more than 100,000 Rohingya refugees, many of whom arrived in recent years through treacherous sea journeys after fleeing Myanmar. Malaysia has never ratified the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention and does not formally recognize refugees. However, it is bound by the international law of ‘non-refoulement,’ which obliges countries not to repatriate refugees or asylum-seekers to places where they could be in danger or at risk of persecution. Nevertheless, Malaysia and other South and Southeast Asian countries that have also not ratified the Convention have rejected Rohingya refugees in recent years, sometimes refusing to rescue them at sea or allow them to come ashore.
A continuing challenge for Malaysia . . .
This week’s incident has drawn closer scrutiny to the treatment of refugees in Malaysia. Malaysia’s detention centres have been criticized for being overcrowded and unsanitary. Moreover, the government’s anti-refugee and anti-Rohingya sentiments hardened at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Rohingya were depicted as posing a threat to the health of Malaysian citizens. The escapees in Penang had been detained for more than two years because the Myanmar government does not accept or recognize their status as citizens of Myanmar. Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin defended his government’s actions, saying the country’s inability to deport the refugees poses a challenge for Malaysia, perhaps signalling Malaysia’s intention to disregard its moral obligations under the principle of non-refoulement.
- Channel News Asia: Rohingya detainees transferred to other depots as search continues for remaining escapees: Kedah police
- The New York Times: 6 Rohingya refugees are killed fleeing detention center in Malaysia
- The Straits Times: More than 500 Rohingya detainees escape from Penang detention centre, at least 6 died while fleeing