Malaysia’s Anti-Rohingya Refugee Poster Angers Rights Groups

Hadi Azmi and Nisha David
Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia’s Anti-Rohingya Refugee Poster Angers Rights Groups Rohingya who illegally entered Thailand and were bound for Malaysia, sit in a house in Bangkok, Jan. 3, 2021.
[Handout from Thailand's Immigration Bureau via AFP]

Rights groups in Malaysia are incensed by an illustration posted on social media by government agencies that shows armed security officials and navy ships surrounding a boat, with a caption that says, “Rohingya migrants, your arrival is not welcome.”

Posts of the illustration prepared by the National Task Force were taken down from the Immigration Department’s Twitter feed and the border agency’s Facebook page, after rights watchdog Amnesty International issued a harsh statement against the illustration.

“It is despicable to say to a community of people who have undergone ethnic cleansing, who have endured unimaginable brutality for generations that they are not only unwanted in our country, but that we will use brute force against them,” Amnesty International Malaysia said in a statement.

The National Task Force (NTF) is a government unit entrusted with tightening border controls, and that works with various national security agencies.

“The masterminds and syndicates involved [in trafficking migrants] will continue to be hunted in order to eradicate the crime of border trespassing as well as other crimes,” the Immigration Department wrote on its Twitter account, in a tweet that featured the illustration.

The NTF prepared the illustration and released it on social media because 81 Rohingya came ashore in Indonesia a week ago after months at sea, said a source at the task force who is not authorized to speak to the media and therefore asked not to be identified.

The refugees had told Indonesian officials that they had intended to go to Malaysia but were turned away.

“This poster is to show that we are serious about not allowing any illegal immigrants into our country,” the source told BenarNews.

Hundreds of Rohingya have made attempts to flee to Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and other countries to escape persecution in Myanmar and dire living conditions in cramped refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Sometimes the refugees have managed to enter  those countries.


An illustration prepared by a Malaysian government task force that says, “Rohingya migrants, your arrival is not welcome,” was posted on the Immigration Department’s Twitter account for about five hours. [Photo courtesy @ ImigresenMY via Twitter]


Migrant rights activist Adrian Pereira from the North South Initiative said he was fearful of what the NTF’s portrayal of the Rohingya could lead to, especially after a surge of online hate against the refugees last year in May.

“This propaganda poster … was issued by the Malaysian government. I am terrified of where this may lead us,” Pereira told BenarNews.

Amnesty said in its statement that they had heard from Rohingya refugees in Malaysia that xenophobia and racism against them had increased in the past 12 months.

“Make no mistake, ‘strategic communications’ and policies like these foster a climate of hatred, violence and xenophobia – they harm lives, they punish people for trying to survive, they justify discrimination,” Amnesty said.

Another rights group, the Milk Tea Alliance, said Malaysia needed to understand the situation in Myanmar.

“The xenophobia of our Immigration Department. They just released a poster saying Rohingya ethnic migrants are not welcome to Malaysia,” the alliance’s Malaysia chapter said in a tweet.

“Firstly, they are refugees, not migrants, secondly, it is obvious our immigration department has no idea what’s happening in Myanmar – shameful.”

North South Initiative’s Pereira wondered how Malaysia planned to secure a seat in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

“This does not make us look good in the eyes of the global community. The Rohingya are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Is this the way we treat them?” he said.

Malaysia is aiming for a spot on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the 2022-2024 term, Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said last December.

‘Unfair for Malaysia’

Meanwhile, the home minister on Friday berated the U.N. refugee agency’s office in Malaysia for issuing too many refugee ID cards to people in the county.

In an interview with a Malay daily, Hamzah Zainudin also wondered why UNHCR wanted access to immigration detention centers, which the refugee agency has been denied since August 2019.

“You want to go in for what? To give [out] UNHCR cards?” Hamzah told Sinar Harian newspaper.

Currently, almost 180,000 UNHCR card holders live in Malaysia, much higher than the estimated 38,000 in 2013.

The minister told another newspaper that Malaysians were against refugees.

“I feel that the majority of Malaysians do not agree with the huge number of refugees, who made Malaysia their destination of choice, as it might lead to various social ills,” Hamzah told The Star.

He did not elaborate on what he meant by “social ills.”

Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

However, according to UNHCR, the non-refoulement principle applies to the country as part of customary international law, which is binding on all states. Non-refoulement prohibits the return of refugees to their country of origin where they may face violence and persecution.


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Jun 12, 2021 01:08 AM

Rights groups anger me!

no to illegals
Jul 07, 2021 09:59 PM

"refugees" is just a nicer term for illegal immigrant or economic refugees. myanmar is in turmoil now and their citizens didn't even think of running away. what a bunch of useless shit. "right groups" who are so righteous please take them in if you want to walk the talk.