Malaysia criticism of Myanmar over the Rohingya issue has been vocal, especially in recent years. Government leaders have spoken out through different platforms, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
However, things have visibly changed in recent months, particularly following the Covid-19 pandemic. Kuala Lumpur has not only changed its tone but also its policy and actions toward the people it had stood up for. Its actions have indicated that Kuala Lumpur has transformed from being a vocal critic of violence against the Rohingya community to a country of refusal.
One important reason why Malaysia has been sympathetic to the cause of Rohingya is because of its shared beliefs in Islamic teachings. But it is intriguing as to why Malaysia has decided to change its perception toward the Rohingya whose fate is still very much precarious.
Of course, one widely reported reason is the fear of contracting Covid-19 through the refugee population.
Though it is not a signatory to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention, Malaysia has for years been one of the favourite destinations for Rohingya fleeing the oppression they are experiencing in Myanmar.
At the 34th Asean summit in Thailand last year, Malaysia strongly condemned violence against the Rohingya community. During a meeting with his Southeast Asian counterparts in Bangkok on June 22, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Bin Abdullah called for the “perpetrators of the Rohingya issue to be brought to justice”.
Earlier on Nov 13, 2018, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad slammed Myanmar and said, “It would seem that Aung San Suu Kyi is trying to defend what is indefensible… They are actually oppressing these people to the point of killing them, mass killing.”
During an interview with Anadolu Agency in July 2019, Dr Mohamad had also said, “They [the Rohingya] should either be treated as nationals, or they should be given their territory to form their own state… massacre or genocide is involved and Malaysia is against genocide and the unfair treatment of the citizens of Myanmar.”