Putrajaya to spell out Rohingya plan

Sheridan Mahavera Yvonne Lim

Foreign Affairs Minister Saifuddin Abdullah chatting with Rohingya refugee children during a visit to the Rohingya Education Centre in Klang in February. The centre is funded by UNHCR and the government wants to help more Rohingya children gain access to education. – EPA pic, August 2, 2019.

HELPING Rohingya refugee children gain better access to educational opportunities in Malaysia will be a main feature in Putrajaya’s national strategy to help one of the world’s most persecuted communities, said Foreign Affairs Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

The plan will also explore the option of allowing the Rohingya to work legally in Malaysia, he told The Malaysian Insight.

Also on the cards is the future of the country’s overseas relief missions, such as the field hospital in the Cox’s Bazaar refugee camp in Bangladesh and programmes in Rakhine state, Myanmar.

Ultimately, the plan will map out Putrajaya’s direction and policies to best use its limited resources to aid 200,000 Rohingya in Malaysia and more than a million others in refugee camps worldwide.

“The bigger picture is we have to decide what exactly needs to be done and how we can contribute to the Rohingya,” Saifuddin said.

“How do we optimise our limited resources? For example, education. Do we want to focus on the kids in Malaysia?” Saifuddin said in a special interview segment called Menteri in my MyVi.

“Can we afford to carry out education programmes in Cox’s Bazaar? Or do we stop education programmes in Cox’s Bazaar and concentrate only on those at home?”

Described as one of the world’s most-persecuted minorities by the United Nations in 2013, it is estimated that close to two million Rohingya have fled Myanmar at different periods since the late 1970s due to violence in the country.

The Myanmar military is accused of perpetrating a campaign of genocide against the Rohingya and in the latest surge of violence in 2017, 650,000 fled their homes.

More than one million Rohingya currently live in refugee camps in Bangladesh, while Malaysia has accepted about 200,000.

Putrajaya has consistently criticised the Myanmar government for its treatment of the community. It also has several humanitarian programmes both in Cox’s Bazaar and in refugee camps in Rakhine state.

Malaysia currently operates a military field hospital in Cox’s Bazaar refugee camp, which is able to provide primary healthcare and perform surgeries.

Best use of resources

Saifuddin said the Rohingya national plan will address the needs and future of the military hospital given the government’s financial constraints.

“We are doing an extremely good job and the people are very thankful to our hospital but the question is how long are we going to stay because it involves budget,” he said.

“We can’t have a situation where every September the cabinet decides to extend the hospital another year. We have to have a timeline. Are we going to stay another three years?”

Rohingya refugees taking part in a protest against a disputed repatriation programme at the Unchiprang refugee camp near Teknaf, Bangladesh, last November. Bangladesh’s plan to repatriate Rohingya refugees who have fled from Myanmar has come under fire as the security situation in Rakhine state remains precarious. – EPA pic, August 2, 2019.

The main crux of the national plan, however, will address how best to help Rohingya children gain educational opportunities in Malaysia.

Since it would be difficult to allow Rohingya children into national schools, Saifuddin said the plan will aid civil society organisations (CSO) currently running alternative education centres.

The plan will spell out the government’s policy and stance towards the community in Malaysia so as to help these CSOs obtain funding.

“The funding (for these education centres) has to come from outside. Even now, most CSOs running these education centres raise their own funds, as the government can’t afford to fund them.

“The strategic paper will give us a proper plan that will assist the CSOs to get better funding either from within or international organisations.

“This is because international funders look at the government’s stance towards Rohingya education and whether it allows these centres to operate in the first place.

“For instance, there is a US$50 billion (RM210 billion) pledge from Qatar but they want to see to what extent the government will facilitate. They want some kind of guarantee that their money will be optimally used,” Saifuddin said.

The plan will also come out with a documentation process for Rohingya youth who finish in these alternative centres and who want to continue their education in local colleges and universities.

“There are students who want to continue their education. What if they are accepted in universities in another country, what would be the process?

“Since we have not recognised them as refugees how will they get proper papers? If they are accepted in local universities how do we charge them? Again, what about their papers?

“We can’t have a situation where there are 10 Rohingya students who claim they are qualified but we can’t validate (their claims).

“I believe there must be some kind of supervision from the government and we have to put in place this architecture,” he added. – August 2, 2019.

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