Myanmar bans workers going to Malaysia as Rohingya crisis grows

At least 21,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Banfladesh following violence in Myanmar, the International Organisation for Migration has said.
PHOTO: AFP

Myanmar has banned workers from going to Muslim-majority Malaysia as relations sour between the neighbours over a bloody military crackdown on the Buddhist country's Rohingya minority.

The move came after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak lashed out at Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi for allowing "genocide" on her watch during a rally Sunday in Kuala Lumpur that drew thousands of people.

The crowds were protesting against a military crackdown in Myanmar's western Rakhine state that has pushed more than 20,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh.

Survivors have told AFP horrifying stories of gang rape, torture and murder at the hands of Myanmar security forces, while dozens have died trying to cross the river that separates the two countries.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar has long discriminated against the stateless Rohingya and the recent crisis has galvanised protests in Muslim countries around the region, including Malaysia.

"We want to tell Aung San Suu Kyi, enough is enough... We must and we will defend Muslims and Islam," Najib said at Sunday's 5,000-strong rally.

"The world cannot sit and watch genocide taking place." A Malaysian government minister has also called for a review of Myanmar's membership inside the regional ASEAN bloc.

Pressure on Myanmar over abuses of Rohingya minority in Rakhine

  • n this photograph taken on September 7, 2016, a minority Muslim Rohingya woman wearing traditional facial paste is seen at the Thet Kal Pyin displacement camp in Sittwe after the Rakhine State has been effectively split on religious grounds between Buddhists and Muslims since bouts of communal violence tore through the state in 2012, killing scores and forcing tens of thousands to flee.
  • Armed Myanmar border police scan the area during a patrol along the river dividing Myanmar and Bangladesh border located in Maungdaw, Rakhine State on October 15, 2016.
  • Rohingya Muslim men stand at U Shey Kya village outside Maugndaw in Rakhine state, Myanmar October 27, 2016.
  • Protesters shout slogans during a rally against former U.N. chief Kofi Annan in Sittwe, Myanmar, September 6, 2016. Annan arrived for a meeting with local officials and Muslim representatives to find a lasting solution to Myanmar's stateless Rohingya Muslims.
  • A group of Myanmar Buddhist monks wait for the arrival of former UN secretary general Kofi Annan during a visit in Sittwe on September 6, 2016, to preside over a meeting of the multisector advisory commission on Rakhine State to find lasting solution to Myanmar's stateless Rohingya Muslims.
  • Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan (background 3rd R), accompanied by multi-sector advisory commission on Rakhine State officials, holds a dialogue with Buddhist monks in Sittwe on September 6, 2016. Annan arrived for a meeting with local officials and Muslim representatives to find a lasting solution to Myanmar's stateless Rohingya Muslims.
  • A Rohingya Muslim elder (centre L, in white) speaks while others listen during a meeting with former UN secretary general Kofi Annan (not pictured) while a policeman (R) takes notes at Thet Kay Pyin camp for displaced Rohingya families in Sittwe on September 7, 2016.
  • Rohingya Muslims gather at Thet Kay Pyin camp during a visit by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan (not pictured) at the camp for displaced Rohingya families in Sittwe on September 7, 2016. Annan is leading the multi-sector advisory commission on Rakhine State to find a lasting solution to Myanmar's stateless Rohingya Muslims.
  • In this photograph taken on September 7, 2016, a minority Muslim Rohingya child wearing traditional facial paste is seen in a shelter at the Thet Kal Pyin displacement camp in Sittwe after the Rakhine State has been effectively split on religious grounds between Buddhists and Muslims since bouts of communal violence tore through the state in 2012, killing scores and forcing tens of thousands to flee.
  • Allegations that Myanmar soldiers are killing, raping and torturing villagers in Rakhine, a restive region that is home to the persecuted Muslim Rohingya, must be independently investigated, rights groups said.
  • Northern Rakhine has been under a military lockdown since an attack on border guards three weeks ago left nine policeman dead.
  • The government has blamed the raids on Rohingya militants and a search for the culprits has seen more than 30 people killed and dozens arrested, according to official reports.
  • Stories of grave abuse by security officers - including sexual violence, summary executions and the torching of villages - have spiralled on social media but are difficult to verify with the army barring rights groups and journalists from the remote region bordering Bangladesh.
  • On Friday Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch joined calls for an impartial investigation into the allegations, which the UN has called "alarming and unacceptable".
  • "If Myanmar's security forces are not involved in any human rights violations as the authorities claim, then they should have no trouble granting independent observers access," said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty's Southeast Asia and Pacific director.
  • Writing on Facebook Friday, government spokesman Zaw Htay dismissed an article in the Myanmar Times that described reports of a "mass rape" in a Rohingya village on October 19.
  • "There was information that some attackers were kept in that village. So security was taken very seriously and (the search team) was very careful about being safe and would not think to rape up to 5 women," he wrote.
  • The government says the October 9 border raids were carried out by hundreds of Rohingya fighters linked to Taliban-trained Islamists.
  • If true, it would mark a troubling development in a religiously-split region where the stateless Rohingya have languished under years of repression but so far shown little interest in jihadist ideology.
  • Rakhine has sizzled with tension ever since waves of communal violence in 2012 killed more than 100 and pushed tens of thousands of people, mostly Rohingya, into destitute displacement camps.
  • Many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar insist the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and viscerally oppose any moves to grant them citizenship.
  • The recent upsurge in violence deepens and complicates a conflict that already posed a top challenge to a new civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who has disappointed rights groups by not coming out in stronger support of the Rohingya.
  • In this handout photograph released by the Myanmar Armed Forces on October 14, 2016, Myanmar Air Force air force personel evacuate teachers and civil servants with a military helicopter from Maungdaw in Rakhine State on October 13, 2016.
  • Rohingya Muslim boys stand at U Shey Kya village outside Maugndaw in Rakhine state
  • Men walk at a Rohingya village outside Maugndaw in Rakhine state
  • Rakhine Buddhists who fled from recent violence in Maungdaw pass their time in a temporary shelter at a stadium in Sittwe, Myanmar, October 25, 2016.
  • In this photo taken on October 15, 2016, armed Myanmar border guard patrol the border area along the river dividing Myanmar and Bangladesh located in Maungdaw, Rakhine State following attacks that killed nine border police. The government says the October 9 border raids were carried out by hundreds of Rohingya fighters linked to Taliban-trained Islamists. Rights groups are piling pressure on Myanmar to allow an impartial probe into allegations that soldiers are killing, raping and torturing villagers in a security crackdown in Rakhine, a restive region home to the persecuted Muslim Rohingya.

Myanmar officials have denied the allegations of abuse and Suu Kyi has told the international community to stop stoking the "fires of resentment".

Late Tuesday Myanmar's immigration ministry said it had ceased issuing new licences for its nationals to work in wealthier Malaysia - for years a top destination for migrant labour.

"Myanmar has temporarily stopped sending workers to Malaysia from 6/12/2016 because of the current situation in Malaysia," it said in a statement, without elaborating.

Malaysia already hosts tens of thousands of Myanmar workers, most of whom take on low-paid jobs in factories or in the food and hospitality industries.

According to Malaysia, some 56,000 Rohingya have arrived on its shores in recent years, many taking perilous boat journeys to flee poverty and discrimination in Rakhine state.

But on Tuesday former UN chief Kofi Annan, who heads a commission on troubled Rakhine, told reporters he thought the crisis would not split the region apart.

"I think it can be contained. There is a possibility here to contain what is going on," he told a news conference in Yangon at the end of a week-long visit.

 

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