During the 36th ASEAN Summit, held virtually on the 26th June due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister of Malaysia Tan Sri Muhyidden Yassin stated that Malaysia can no longer take in Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in light of their struggling economy and dwindling resources as a result of the pandemic: ““We can no longer take more as our resources and capacity are already stretched, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic”
He has therefore called upon ASEAN to find an effective solution for the crisis and that ASEAN “must to more to help Myanmar, and Myanmar must also do more to help itself for this crisis to be put behind is”. He additionally urged the UNHCR to work closely with ASEAN to expedite the resettlement process of UNCHR Cardholders to third countries, advocating for a durable solution.
According to UNHCR there are over 100,000 Rohingya in Malaysia, which rights groups have argued to be higher. He further added that Malaysia is unfairly expected to do more to accommodate the incoming refugees and added: “Despite Malaysia not being Party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1976 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, we have provided humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees, and other refugees from Myanmar.”
Malaysia does not currently recognise refugee status and has turned away and detained hundreds of Rohingya, who have been accused of spreading the virus and taking up scarce state funds.
Human Rights Watch had previously released an advocacy statement before the 36th summit calling upon ASEAN to urgently adopt concrete plans for addressing the crisis and highlighting that Vietnam, as this year’s host to the summit, should lead efforts to improve regional cooperation. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has additionally urged Vietnam to take on a larger role in addressing the crisis. HRW have condemned Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia’s policies or maritime pushbacks and calls upon them to |instead undertake coordinated efforts to respond to the boats in distress, enact search-and-rescue operation, bring boats ashore to the nearest safe port, and provide humanitarian aid.”