KUALA LUMPUR (SIN CHEW DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Last week, the Malaysian government's decision to reject a boat loaded with some 200 Rohingya boatpeople from landing in the country drew the ire of human rights groups and non-governmental organisations (NGO).
They have urged the government to provide these refugees humanitarian aid and shelter, while the Malaysian Bar accused the government of violating the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).
Meanwhile, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim also felt that the government should provide refuge to these Rohingya boatpeople on humanitarian grounds.
Three weeks ago, a boat carrying 202 Rohingyas landed on Langkawi in Kedah.
Back then the authorities quarantined these illegal migrants for 14 days before detaining them while making arrangements for their repatriation.
However, defence ministry senior minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said since they were already in the country, the government had the obligation to protect their rights.
Due to the conflicts between the Myanmar government and the Muslim Rohingyas in recent years, many Rohingyas have since 2013 infiltrated Malaysia either by land or sea.
Unofficial estimates put the number of illegal migrants at more than 100,000.
Some of them are housed in refugee centres, receiving all sorts of humanitarian aid from the government and gradually assimilating themselves into the Malaysian society, while the others become jobless, homeless and beggars, creating new social problems for the country.
There is a Rohingya settlement next to the recently locked down Selayang wholesale market in Kuala Lumpur. Some of the Rohingyas there have tested positive for Covid-19.
Like many other countries in this world, Malaysia is facing the challenging coronavirus outbreak.
However, the government has not overlooked the welfare of foreign workers and illegal migrants here, but the thing is, we simply cannot afford to take in more refugees.
During such a trying time, the government's handling of the Rohingya boatpeople issue has won the support of Muslims in the country. They have urged the government not to allow any more refugees in the country before the coronavirus outbreak is contained.
In the meantime, human rights groups should understand the predicament of the country instead of squarely pressurising the government as this will only add to the burden of the government while shoring up pressure from the international community.
We must seal all our land and sea borders and step up marine patrols to prevent illegal migrants from infiltrating into the country and speed up the spread of coronavirus.
While we cannot ignore the well-being of migrants and refugees already in the country, we absolutely have the right to reject new refugees and illegal migrants.
Sin Chew Daily is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media organisations.