By Goh Cia Yee

This is my home. I can choose who I want inside

I suppose Malaysia is your home but it is not your house and that is where the comparison must stop. While I do agree that you can decide who your guests are in your private house, I think comparing refugees in Malaysia to that of visitors being in your house is an extremely poor analogy.

Malaysia is not a house that is solely owned by your or your family. To say that you could turn individuals you alone dislike from Malaysia because it is your home is untrue.

The analogy fails to do justice to the complexity of the situation in which these refugees escaping persecution have close to no choice in the matter.

We have no laws recognising them as refugees

While this is true, the current non-existence of a law does not prevent its future construction. Laws also do not necessarily reflect the most moral or economically beneficial position that a country can take.

We are governed by the rule of law not the rule by law. Good robust legislation that affords protection to vulnerable people in our society sometimes require time, effort and lots of campaigning before they get enacted.

A good example would be domestic abuse victims. Do they deserve less protection before the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act? The answer would be an obvious no. The need of such protection exists even prior to the construction of that legislation.

The same applies in this context. The non-existence of the law itself does not support the rejection of refugees in Malaysia.

Why don’t you let them stay at your own house then?

Once again I reiterate my points above in that the house analogy is a poor one. I am not suggesting that we take Rohingya refugees into our own literal house. I doubt whether these refugees would even want to take up that offer if it exists.

What I am suggesting instead is for the status of these refugees to be recognised and for them to be given the chance to undertake employment and for them to access important public services such as education or healthcare.

Bear in mind that if they could work, they would be subject to tax and are in a way also contributing to the availability of such services. Recognising their status as refugees and allowing them to be employed ensures that they have their own house to stay in and not yours or mine, thus rendering this argument completely moot.

I have had a terrible experience with Rohingya people

We cannot generalise an entire class of people based on the actions of a few that claim to be part of that class. There are extremely hard-working and kind refugees and there may be refugees that are problematic but we should evaluate people individually and not in groups.

Performing such generalisations is akin to saying that just because a Malaysian was arrested overseas for distributing child pornography that all of a sudden Malaysians are all paedophiles that deserve to be shunned. Such thinking is backwards and clearly flawed.

Harsh living conditions is also a factor that must be taken into consideration. Preventing refugees in Malaysia from officially undertaking employment surely has an impact on the financial capability of these refugees and the financial constraints faced by them may be a contributing reason to some of these alleged illegal actions.

Recognising them as refugees and allowing them to work may help to alleviate this problem.

It’s Myanmar’s problem not our problem

I’m not going to dive deep into the complex situation in Myanmar but I will make a point that regardless of whether the persecution of the Rohingya amounts to a genocide or not, it is undeniable that the Rohingya have been severely persecuted and crimes against them and their community have been committed to the extent that many within their community have had no choice but to seek for refuge in other countries.

It is a problem that Myanmar has to tackle but it is not not a problem that they have to tackle alone. Helping Rohingya refugees and Myanmar settling their domestic issues are efforts that must be conducted contemporaneously.

The refugee problem is a humanitarian issue that cannot be brushed aside by Malaysia.

Refugees are victims that put their lives at risk to escape from persecution in their own home. The modes of travel that they undertake is a perilous one that flirts with constant danger.

It is a human issue that we cannot turn a blind eye towards because the truth is that the situation in the Rakhine state will cause the Rohingya to find a way into Malaysia with or without Malaysia’s consent.

Look no further than the mass graves in Wang Kelian as proof. The lack of choice they have in the matter is something that must be taken into account and their status must be distinguished from that of an immigrant worker.

Whether we like it or not, the Rohingya will continue to be a matter of our concern and refusing to acknowledge their status or to give them an opportunity to reside and work here simply contributes to a growing network of trafficking victims, illegal work and unvaccinated children that ultimately comes back to haunt our society if it is left ignored.

The solution is not to prevent their residence in Malaysia as such policy has been shown to be ineffective. What is needed instead is to facilitate their residence here and for Malaysia to provide legitimate means for them to contribute to our economy.

Government should not waste resources on these people and if we do so, we are opening the floodgates

As I have pointed out above, allowing these refugees to work will ensure that they would be able to sustain their own living. Allowing them to reside in our country enables them to contribute to our economy either through taxation or spending on their part.

The floodgates argument I think is a weak one considering the fact that many Rohingya people have found a way into Malaysia despite the lack of recognition or protection afforded to their people by Malaysia. It must also borne in mind that the definition of “refugee” covers a specific class of vulnerable people that are in desperate need of either temporary or permanent residence.

The migration of these refugees is not driven by choice but is rather motivated by fear and the threat of life and as such they will continue to enter Malaysia regardless of whether we are receptive of it or not.

If you do not agree with my arguments above then I plead with your humanity. Can you be so selfish to believe that helping these refugees would take away from your share of the pie? That line of thinking is not rational at all and I plead with whoever that holds that thought to perform a deep reflection upon their own values and themselves.

Despite what you may believe in personally, there remains an objective truth, namely that there exists only one race that should be of your concern: The human race.

Migration has always been a key part of human history and without the recognition of these refugees, we would very likely not have Steve Jobs, a man heavily responsible for the smartphone device that you are probably using to read this with or Freddie Mercury, a man that helped to define the music genre.

We wouldn’t even have the kingdom of Malacca if Parameswara got turned away when he was arriving by boat because yes, he was a refugee.

Despite what many people would tell us, there is no “us” vs”’them.” There is only us. Whether some of us should die or not is not a choice for you to make.

* Goh Cia Yee is a Malaysian criminal lawyer