A day after Myanmar's government announced it would no longer send workers to Malaysia, a migrant-group leader said about 90,000 Rohingya Muslims already in the country were willing to take jobs.
Faisal Islam Muhammad Kassim, president of the Rohingya Society in Malaysia (RSM), told BenarNews on Thursday that allowing members of his group to get jobs and seek education in Malaysia would help many who live in shared flats and houses have better lives.
"We would like to work and earn our income," said Faisal, a statistics graduate from a Myanmar university who earns his keep in Malaysia through translation work for media outlets and other odd jobs.
"We then can have access to health insurance if we are able to work legally here. Our children can also receive proper education," said Faisal, who has been in Malaysia for three years without a full-time job.
In response, Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) Executive Director Shamsuddin Bardan supported the idea following Myanmar's move on Wednesday.
"I personally believe when the Myanmar government decided to stop sending workers, the government should allow Rohingya refugees who are currently in Malaysia to work.
"But the policy must be firm. No refugees who come after a certain date should be allowed to work so that the country won't be overrun by Rohingya refugees," Shamsuddin told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian Ministry of Human Resources has not received official notification from Myanmar about its prohibition on migrant workers heading to Malaysia. Human Resources Minister Richard Riot said such a move would not change the number of foreign workers in the country.
"About 100,000 Myanmar workers are working in Malaysia with most of them in the manufacturing sector," he said, adding the nation had enough foreign workers with most coming from Bangladesh.
In addition, Malaysia recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Cambodia to bring in workers, he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
About 56,000 Rohingya in Malaysia have received refugee status cards from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kuala Lumpur. Faisal said another 35,000 were not recognized by UNHCR, which protects refugees but does not allow them to work legally.
Shamsuddin said the number of refugees was much higher, claiming that 150,000 Rohingya were in Malaysia and had no legal access to jobs.
In November, UNHCR told the Reuters news service that it was working with Malaysian officials on a pilot program to allow a few Rohingya - 300 over three years - to work in Malaysia's plantation and manufacturing sectors.
Myanmar on Wednesday said it had temporarily stopped sending workers to Malaysia over the "current situation in Malaysia," but without elaboration and apparently in response to bilateral tensions over a military crackdown in Rakhine state.
Myanmar's army has conducted security sweeps in the northern part of the state that borders Bangladesh following deadly attacks on Burmese border guard posts in early October. Authorities have blamed Rohingya militants for those attacks.
Soldiers have been accused of committing extrajudicial killings, rape and arson in Rohingya communities. The military has denied committing any atrocities and has blamed the arson that reportedly destroyed hundreds of homes on Rohingya. More than 20,000 Rohingya have crossed into southeastern Bangladesh in recent weeks as they have fled from the violence in Rakhine, the International Organization for Migration said this week.
On Friday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak led a rally in Kuala Lumpur where he condemned violence against Rohingya Muslims as "genocide" and urged other Asian nations to increase pressure on Myanmar to stop the bloodletting.
The move prompted Myanmar's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Kyaw Tin to summon Malaysian Ambassador Mohd Haniff Bin Abd Rahman to express dismay over Najib's remarks and reject accusations of genocide and ethnic cleansing.
Faisal said large populations of Rohingya were in Kuala Lumpur Selangor, and the northern state of Penang. Their children attend schools run by non-governmental organizations.
"We expect that there are more than what we've recorded. UNHCR is giving cards to those who really need it like the sickly and those who had been detained by the authorities and kept at the immigration depot," said Faisal, 34, the father of a 5-month-old.
Lydia Amira, a teacher at a Rohingya NGO school in Kuala Lumpur supported calls for educational rights for Rohingya.
"These students have potential. We want them to have language and knowledge so that they can survive the outside world. It's no different from normal, non-refugee kids.
"From just teaching them language, basic English, a number of our students were accepted for relocation efforts into the United States, perhaps with what we are teaching here, one day they can go back to their country and rebuild it with what they learned," she told BenarNews.
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