Refugees by definition have fled situations which are life-threatening and to which they cannot return because of fear for their lives.
As of January 2023, there were 183,790 refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia. 158,870 (86%) of these have fled from Myanmar.
The military government in Yangon has for years been targeting a number of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, including the Chin, Rohingya, Karen, Kachin, Mon, Shan, Arakan, and Myanmar Muslims.
Report after report has charted atrocities and the abrogation of human rights over several decades. The systematic oppression of ethnic minorities like the Rohingya has widely been described as genocide. Mass killings, widespread sexual violence, torture, burnings, lootings, detention, forced labour and more have been consistently reported and detailed by the UN and other fact-finding missions. The situation has been horrific.
Hence the fact that hundreds of thousands have fled, and some to Malaysia. There are approximately 20,000 registered refugees in Penang, scattered across a variety of locations on the island and the mainland. The majority of them, around 80%, are Rohingya. There are many more yet to be registered, who are particularly vulnerable.
There are also refugees from other countries who have fled to Malaysia, including from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Syria, Sudan, Iran and Palestine. Again, these people are fleeing from situations where their lives and those of their families are threatened, and where the situation in their homeland provides little option but to seek safety and refuge elsewhere.
Fleeing the genocide in Myanmar
A young refugee family in Malaysia Pic: UNHCR