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FACTBOX – Fleeing persecution at home, thousands of Rohingya land in Malaysia

In a file photo from August 11, 2015, refugees, many of whom say they are Rohingya, wait for access to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) building in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

By Beh Lih Yi, Reuters

There are more than 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia – 90 percent of them are from Myanmar

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Malaysia is considering opening up its job market for thousands of refugees, who are mostly Rohingya and up until now have no legal right to work in the country.

Although not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, Muslim-majority Malaysia has been hosting a large number of Muslim Rohingya, who are shunned and persecuted in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

Here are some facts about refugees in Malaysia and the Rohingya:

  • As of end of June this year, there are some 150,700 refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia, Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy with a population of 30 million. Among them are 34,000 children aged below 18.
  • About 90 percent of the country’s refugees and asylum seekers are from Myanmar. Topping the list are 53,140 Rohingya, followed by ethnic Chin from the country, Myanmar Muslims, Rakhines and other ethnicities.
  • The remaining refugees and asylum seekers are from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestinian territories.
  • The Rohingya are often referred to as “Bengali” in Myanmar, a term that implies they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although Rohingya families have lived in the area for generations. They are stateless as the state does not recognise their citizenship.
  • Sectarian violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state in 2012 displaced about 145,000 people and around 20,000 homes were destroyed. An estimated one million Rohingya live in Rakhine.
  • Worsening violence sparked an exodus by boat. Some 25,000 Rohingya and economic migrants from Bangladesh boarded smugglers’ boats between January and March 2015, almost double the number over the same period in 2014. An estimated 300 people died at sea during this period as a result of starvation, dehydration and abuse by boat crews.
  • Thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshis were left stranded in the sea for weeks in May 2015 after Thai authorities cracked down on a popular smuggling route, sparking the Asian migrant crisis.
  • Malaysia and Indonesia ended the impasse by agreeing to offer temporary shelter to the boat people on condition that a resettlement and repatriation process would be carried out within a year by the international community.
  • Of over 1,000 people who landed in Malaysia in May 2015, 371 were identified as Rohingya and “of concern” to the U.N. refugee agency. So far, only 36 have been resettled in the United States, leaving in May this year.

Sources: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Fortify Rights

(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)