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LETTER | Political manipulations behind xenophobic attacks on Rohingyas?

LETTER | In times of difficulties, when the people are divided over an insecure government, the best way to unite the people behind the government is to create a common enemy - usually the most minorities and powerless group like the LGBT or in this case, Rohingya refugees.

If you remember, just three years ago, the so-called Perpaduan Ummah (Muslim Unity) between Umno-PAS was a call to save our Rohingya Muslim brothers. We all know at that time it was a political ploy to unite the Malays against DAP and Pakatan Harapan.

This time the wind of politics has changed. Time and again, the most vulnerable groups have been used as pawns for the political power struggle of the ruling elites. This sudden xenophobic attack targeting the Rohingya community is no different.

It started from a piece of fake news that the president of the Malaysian Ethnic Rohingya Association (Mehrom) allegedly demanded full citizenship. This can be traced to a Facebook holder called Tun Jebat which has since been taken down. 

This is reported by the chief editor of bulletin Tentera Troll Kebangsaan Malaysia, Muhamad Harris Nasril, in his Facebook post as he investigated the fake news claim that Rohingya are demanding full citizenship.

The Facebook holder of “Tun Jebat” page is believed to be replaced by “Jebat”, which is still spewing out fake news about the Rohingya. This was followed by xenophobic descriptions of refugees as “illegal immigrants”, allegedly by “Malaysian Immigration department updates” on Facebook.

These fake news and provocative posts going viral and out of control were enough to stoke xenophobic rage amongst frightened Malaysians in the middle of this coronavirus pandemic.

Understandably, Malaysians fear that our limited resources are further stretched if we have to help foreigners coming by boats. Fears of infections by a foreign virus serve as a perfect analogy of dirty dark-skinned foreigners invading our country, taking our food, our jobs and our healthcare away from us.

Refugees comprised less than 0.6 percent of our population. And they have been here for decades, doing the work no Malaysians would do and without any aid from the government. Occasionally, news about refugees has been blown out of proportion that they take away our jobs and our healthcare.

Nothing is further from the truth. According to the think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, if refugees were allowed to work legally, they would generate RM3 billion to our economy.

If Malaysians are so easily swept by the wave of xenophobia to victimise an ethnic group that has been recognised as victims of genocide, let’s take a moment to reflect on our pure good luck of being born into a country with all the privileges of citizenship, a privilege that we did absolutely nothing to earn.

We could have as easily been born in a war-torn country like Syria, or as a stateless person like the Rohingya, fleeing certain death in their homeland and stranded in a boat in the middle of nowhere. Most of us are migrants in this country, and we stand on the backs of those who fought for our rights to migrate and stay in this nation.

How should we use this privileged position? To protect the rights of others who came after us, or use this privilege to deny others that same security our forefathers sought when they migrated here?

A little empathy would be good in this time of crisis. It will not lessen you, but your xenophobia will.

JULES RAHMAN ONG is a former news reporter, now a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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