Migrants and refugees have often been portrayed in a negative light and subjected to mistreatment, in addition to being blamed for a host of problems in the country. Most of the ill-treatment that they receive are the byproduct of misinformation and the absence of legal frameworks to uphold their rights.
This article is published in conjunction with the World Refugee Day that is observed on June 20th every year, to celebrate and honour refugees from around the world.
KUALA LUMPUR, June 20 (Bernama) -- The majority of Malaysians have negative perceptions towards migrants and refugees, says Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Johari Abdul.
“The amount of hate especially during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic undermines the values that define us as a diverse society,” he said during the launch of a toolkit for Members of Parliament (MPs) to promote counter-narratives against hate speech towards migrants and refugees in Malaysia.
He said the spread of disinformation and hate through social media platforms was a cause of concern and continued to be a problem to this day.
“If we do not address the issues now, human rights violations and erosion in our society may persist,” he said in his opening remarks at the event launch in the Parliament building.
The toolkit was launched on June 8 by the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), in partnership with the office of the Speaker of Dewan Rakyat.
It includes an explanation of what constitutes hate speech and the importance of countering it while suggesting possible strategies that MPs can use to promote positive narratives about migrants and refugees, both in parliament and in their respective constituencies.
Meanwhile, Bukit Bendera MP Syerleena Abdul Rashid expressed she was looking forward to the toolkit being utilised by other fellow MPs when dealing with the issue of refugees and migrants.
“I’m hopeful that having a toolkit like this can also present ideas and guidelines in terms of what language to use and the goals and narratives we are trying to achieve.
“We cannot assume how other MPs will react, in time we will see but then again let's just be hopeful and focus on the positive. In fact, the toolkit that exists can already be a benchmark of how we should aspire to be.
“With that being said, there's always going to be negative criticism - we can’t escape that. So it’s a question of when we have these negative aspects and sound bites, how do we counter it?
“It is an ongoing process, it will take time but we will have to start somewhere,” she told Bernama in an interview.
Syerleena, who is also an APHR member, believes that the Dewan Rakyat Speaker could assist in ensuring all of the MPs adhere to the toolkit’s guidelines.
“I’ve seen some very positive reactions and responses coming from him. He is a Speaker that is very just, very focused on what is right and what is wrong, so there is no problem.
“So having the Speaker already set the tone, I’m very optimistic that everybody else will follow,” she said.
Syerleena said migrants have often been targets of discriminating language and remarks, creating a hostile environment that undermines their dignity and rights.
“As parliamentarians, our public statements and actions can influence and make a difference. Deep-seated prejudices and misconceptions are among the root causes for hate speech fueled by uninformed statements made by influential personalities such as politicians or even social media influencers,” she said.
She said migration has been taking place for centuries but migrants and refugees in the country are still blamed for a host of problems, from job loss to crimes.
“According to studies conducted in 2019, around 83 percent of Malaysian responders believe that migrants and refugees have caused the crime rates to go up.
“However, evidence of the causal impact of migration on crime contradicts this. Evidence shows an increase of 100,000 migrant workers in Malaysia reduces crime committed by 9.9 percent.
“Unfortunately, political discourse in Malaysia often depicts migrants and refugees as a potential threat to national security and harmful towards the country's long-term social and economic progress,” she said.
APHR Malaysia Chair Wong Chen who also spoke at the launch said that the toolkit was based on professional survey research that was made available to APHR by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Malaysia as well as consultation with many APHR members serving in civil society.
The toolkit launch also saw the attendance of the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei Darussalam, Karima El Korri.
Karima said the toolkit served as a reminder of the immense power MPs held in advocating for human rights and shaping narratives that can unite Malaysia’s society.
“MPs have an undeniable ability to influence public policies and shape the discourse on human rights, tolerance, solidarity and inclusiveness,” she said.
As lawmakers, they could also work to enhance legal frameworks and enact effective measures against hate speech, she said.
She also highlighted a recent study conducted by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that uncovered some intriguing findings.
“While there is some level of anxiety about the cultural and other implications of migration, 52 percent of Malaysians believe that migrants contribute positively to society and the economy.
“Another 63 percent agree that communities are stronger when everyone is supported and around 68 percent are in the swayable middle.
“Malaysians respond favourably to messages from figures that they trust. So if they trust parliamentarians, they will respond positively and make sure that their opinions are formed according to that,” she said.