NEWS that two of their own have been arrested by the Malaysian police for terrorism rocked the Rohingya community here to the core this past week.
Community leaders said they were shocked that the Rohingya here could be involved in these activities as they were “peace loving” people who were against violence. Some of the leaders even questioned if those picked up by the police were really Rohingya.
Rafik Shah Ismail, 43, a community leader with the Human Aid Selangor Society said that he had no problem if those guilty were punished as he did not want the peace of the country to be disturbed.
However, he has doubts that the suspects were really Rohingya, claiming that he had never heard of any involvement of the community over here in terrorism.
“We don’t encourage anyone to be involved. No religion allows their followers to harm others. I’m not sure who would be stupid enough to get involved in these sort of things,” said Rafik.
It was reported last week that a 20-year-old Rohingya man with a UNHCR card was nabbed in Kuala Lumpur, and he had admitted to joining a terrorist cell here and supporting the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) terror group.
The man, according to Inspector General of Police Datuk Abdul Hamid Bador, had planned to attack the Myanmar Embassy in Kuala Lumpur and wanted to go to Rakhine.
There was no information about the other Rohingya man, except that he was also detained in Kuala Lumpur.
The two men were among four detained from a terror cell that was planning to “avenge” fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim’s death. Police later arrested three of their suspected “brothers in arms” in other anti-terror swoops around the country.
Arsa has already refuted any involvement of Rohingya in Malaysia, tweeting that it “only legitimately and objectively” operates as an #ETHNO-NATIONALIST movement within Myanmar, and that its activities would not transcend beyond the country.
Counter terrorism experts, however, have long warned that terror groups such as the Islamic State could use the crisis in Rakhine to radicalise and recruit the Rohingya.
Other community leaders approached by The Star on the subject did not want to be identified as they were afraid of possible retribution.
One is a Rohingya human rights activist from Ampang who said that many in his community were afraid that there will be backlash against them.
“It is very shocking for all of us and the law should be allowed to take its course against them. We don’t know who they are and their wrongdoings shouldn’t affect the community. We fear that other innocent refugees will be affected by this,” he said.
Most of the Rohingya in Malaysia were more worried about survival issues – especially how to put food on the table for their families – than about Rakhine’s political problems, he added.
“The majority of us are thinking about feeding our families. It won’t be logical for us to be involved in such activities.”
He strongly believed that it was ludicrous for a Rohingya to be involved in local issues such as that of Adib.
“We fled Myanmar because we couldn’t tolerate atrocities there anymore. So, we don’t want to harm our host country that is giving us a safe haven. Just because there are a few of them who are fighting, it doesn’t mean everybody is doing it,” he said in reference to Arsa, which he said did not represent them.
As of April this year, there are 90,200 Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia, although the total is estimated to be at least twice of that number.
The Rohingya, who come mainly from the Rakhine state that borders Bangladesh along the coast of western Myanmar, fled to Malaysia to escape the persecution against them.
In fact the United Nations considers them as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
The Rohingya have been subjected to arbitrary violence and forced labour in Myanmar since the 1980s.
In recent years, millions of Rohingya crossed the borders of Myanmar to escape large-scale violence perpetrated against them.
Another community leader here said the two terror suspects could be pretending to be Rohingya. He said there were others who looked like them and used their plight to pretend to be refugees to be in the country.
“I hope the authorities can investigate if they are really Rohingya or not. Because of these two people, we are facing problems,” he added.
He nonetheless conceded that while most Rohingya did not subscribe to violence, there was a possibility that there could be those who have been “turned” by extremist elements.
“It is easy for terrorist groups to exploit the Rohingya if our problems are not solved or the situation becomes worse,” the community leader noted.