Southeast Asia’s leaders will come together on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this month and during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in November. ASEAN has been one of the few actors able to engage the Myanmar government since 2017. The region’s leaders must show compassion for the Rohingya and push Myanmar to take steps to end the violence, discrimination, and persecution that forced out the Rohingya. Otherwise this tragedy will continue.
As a medical humanitarian organisation providing health care to Rohingya in Malaysia, Myanmar and Bangladesh, MSF witnesses the daily struggles they face. In Bangladesh and Malaysia, the Rohingya do not have refugee status and need some form of temporary legal stay. In Myanmar, they are denied citizenship and treated as foreigners. Statelessness is the root of their vulnerability.
In Malaysia, MSF treats Rohingya patients badly injured in work accidents who are deterred from seeking medical care at public hospitals due to fear of being reported to immigration. Yet recent research demonstrates that including refugees in the legal workforce could add millions to gross domestic product and tax revenue, as well as create jobs for Malaysian citizens. The Pakatan Harapan manifesto promised legal status and work rights to refugees; the government should fulfil these commitments. Malaysia can lead by example on the question of status, by granting Rohingya some form of temporary status to stay in the country legally.