Malaysia, Asean must act over Myanmar unrest

Malaysia and other Asean countries must take a proactive stand in addressing the conflict in Myanmar as the spillover of the military coup will affect them.

Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights chair Charles Santiago said it would be only natural to see a spike in the number of refugees fleeing Myanmar after the elected government was toppled by the military on Monday.

A year-long state of emergency was also imposed in the Southeast Asian nation, resulting in fear and uncertainty among its citizens.

“Now with an emergency, the military has blanket power to do what it wants,” said Santiago.

“Malaysia, together with Asean, must send a strong message to the Myanmar military to contain the problem within their country.”

He refuted the notion that sending a strong message would be construed as interfering with Myanmar’s internal affairs.

“This is not interfering because Myanmar’s problem will become an Asean problem.”

He added refugees from Myanmar will usually travel to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as at December 2020, there were 154,030 Myanmar refugees in Malaysia. Some 102,250 of them are Rohingyas, 22,410 Chins and the rest are from other ethnic groups from conflict-affected areas or fleeing persecution.

There are 178,610 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia.

“As such Malaysia must put its foot down and tell them (Myanmar) to solve their problem internally.”

Santiago said Malaysian borders are porous and the country already has issues with human trafficking.

The Klang MP said this after his joint press conference on the implications of the Myanmar military coup on human rights and democracy this morning.

Santiago was joined by Khin Ohmar, chairperson of the Advisory Board of Progressive Voice, and Wai Wai Nu, founder and director of the Women’s Peace Network.

The trio had earlier called for governments, particularly those from Southeast Asia, to come up with concrete steps to send a strong message.

They include imposing sanctions, cutting ties with businesses linked to the Myanmar military and deporting children of military leaders studying abroad.

Malaysia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, in a press statement yesterday, called on the Myanmar military and relevant parties “to give utmost priority to the maintenance of peace and security in Myanmar, uphold the rule of law, and resolve any electoral discrepancies through established legal mechanisms and dialogue in a peaceful manner.”