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Malaysian states refuse to shelter Rohingya migrants

By P Prem Kumar
Anadolu Agency
May 27, 2015

Northern Penang and Kedah cite lack of space, crime rates in objecting to federal gov’t plan to host boat people for a year.

KUALA LUMPUR -- Two Malaysian states have rejected the federal government's request to provide shelter for migrants, hindering plans to accommodate Muslim Rohingya arriving in the country after being stranded in the Andaman Sea.

A source from the prime minister’s office who wished to remain unnamed as he was not authorized to speak with media said the northern states of Penang and Kedah both objected Sunday to hosting the migrants for one year.

Since early May, thousands of Rohingya – who have fled Myanmar in droves since 2012 - and Bangladeshis have been stranded with little access to food or water after Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand declared they would not allow migrant boats to land on their shores.

Last week, Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to offer temporary shelter to Rohingya migrants - but only if the international community agrees to then resettle them after one year. Both countries, however, said Bangladeshis from stranded boats would be returned to their country.

Kedah’s chief minister Mukhriz Mahathir sent a protest note to Prime Minister Najib Razak on Sunday, claiming the state has no space to accommodate the refugees.

"The protest note is expected to list the Malaysian police and Immigration Department's capability constraints to deal with the influx of illegal immigrants in the thousands," the source told Anadolu Agency.

Mahathir's Penang counterpart Lim Guan Eng also rejected the placement plan, citing high crime rates among Rohingya and other people from Myanmar in the island state. Police have linked recent unsolved murders in the area to ongoing sectarian strife in Myanmar.

Kedah has been faced with a flood of Rohingya and Bangladeshis since two weeks ago, when 1,158 migrants were arrested after landing at Langkawi island.

They have been moved in stages to the Belantik Immigration Detention Centre in the state’s Sik town.

Lim Guan Eng, meanwhile, said state land could not be used to house more people since Penang has been hosting 50,000 Rohingya over the last six years.

He also said Penang had to deal with crimes such as murder believed to have been committed by the Myanmar against the Rohingya and vice-versa.

"Penang has no space,” the chief minister added, refuting a recent statement by Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar that the state should temporarily shelter the 7,000 Rohingya refugees who had fled Myanmar and were still adrift at sea.

“I have no clue where the Inspector-General found space in Penang, but no, we are not going to accept them," he insisted.

According to Bakar, Penang was a suitable location for temporary resettlement since its location in the north would render it easier to relocate the refugees elsewhere after a year.

The recent influx of migrants to the country’s shores comes after Thailand launched a May 1 crackdown following the discovery of more than 30 bodies in human trafficking camps along its southern border with Malaysia.

On Sunday, Malaysian media reported that mass graves had also been found in 17 camps on the Malaysian side, despite the government’s earlier denial of their existence.

Minister Zahid Hamidi expressed his shock to reporters, saying the camps in the border town of Padang Besar, northern Perlis state, may have been in the area for five years.

“A grave maybe has three, four bodies. But we don’t know how many there are. We are probably going to find more bodies,” he said.

Last year, both Malaysia and Thailand were downgraded to Tier 3 status in the U.S. State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report for not complying with the "minimum standards" to deal with human trafficking.

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