Myanmar bans workers going to Malaysia as refugee crisis grows


YANGON — Myanmar has banned workers from going to Muslim-majority Malaysia as relations sour between the neighbours over the bloody military crackdown in Maungdaw.

The move came after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak lashed out at State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi during a rally Sunday in Kuala Lumpur that drew thousands of people.

The crowds were protesting against a military crackdown in Rakhine State that has pushed more than 20,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh.

Survivors have told AFP horrifying stories of gang rape, torture and murder at the hands of Myanmar security forces, following a coordinated attack by militants against police outposts in Maungdaw District on October 9. Dozens have died trying to cross the river that separates the two countries.

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Officials have denied the allegations of abuse and Aung San Suu Kyi has told the international community to stop stoking the “fires of resentment”.

Myanmar has long discriminated against the stateless Rohingya and the recent crisis has galvanised protests in Muslim countries around the region, including Malaysia.

“We want to tell Aung San Suu Kyi, enough is enough… We must and we will defend Muslims and Islam,” Najib said at Sunday’s 5,000-strong rally. 

“The world cannot sit and watch genocide taking place.”

A Malaysian government minister has also called for a review of Myanmar’s membership inside the regional Association for Southeast Asian Nations bloc.

Late Tuesday the Ministry of Immigration said it had ceased issuing new licences for its nationals to work in wealthier Malaysia — for years a top destination for migrant labour.

“Myanmar has temporarily stopped sending workers to Malaysia from 6/12/2016 because of the current situation in Malaysia,” it said in a statement, without elaborating. 

Malaysia already hosts tens of thousands of Myanmar workers, most of whom take on low-paid jobs in factories or in the food and hospitality industries.

According to Malaysia, some 56,000 Rohingya have arrived on its shores in recent years, many taking perilous boat journeys to flee poverty and discrimination in Rakhine State.

But on Tuesday former UN chief Kofi Annan, appointed by the government to head its Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, told reporters he thought the crisis would not split the region apart.

“I think it can be contained. There is a possibility here to contain what is going on,” he told a news conference in Yangon at the end of a week-long visit.

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