On Friday, 11 June, the Immigration Department uploaded a poster telling Rohingya migrants they are not welcomed here across its social media accounts. The poster sparked a huge outrage from netizens.
The poster, appearing to promote xenophobic sentiments, carried a caption in all caps in Bahasa Melayu that read,"MIGRAN ETNIK ROHINGYA KEDATANGAN ANDA TIDAK DIUDANG".
In English, the caption translates to, "Ethnic Rohingya migrants, you're not welcomed".
The anti-Rohingya poster, designed to look like a film poster, featured maritime and aerial defence assets plastered against a backdrop of stormy clouds and a number of boats filled with refugees.
In the middle, it showed three uniformed personnel from the Royal Malaysia Police, the Armed Forces, and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, appearing to stand guard against any intruders.
The department's social media posts also carried a warning to the "masterminds and syndicates" who are involved in bringing these people into the country, that they will be hunted.
Reaction to the anti-Rohingya poster was immediate
On Twitter, the Malaysian arm of a cross-border youth movement called Milk Tea Alliance highlighted the wrong and factually incorrect definition used for the Rohingyas who are refugees and not migrants.
The Milk Tea Alliance Malaysia also shared how the poster comes across as a government threat against refugees and promotes hatred against Rohingya people who are already living fragile lives in Malaysia.
Soon, the department removed the poster from across its accounts.
However, not before Amnesty International Malaysia slammed the Immigration Department in a hard-hitting statement last night.
The Malaysian arm of the international non-governmental organisation (NGO) chastised the poster and its accompanying messages, calling it "despicable" and an act of "hypocrisy" with opposing views towards Palestinians and Rohingya, despite both facing similarly damaging persecutions back home.
"It is despicable to say to a community of people who have undergone ethnic cleansing, who have endured unimaginable brutality for generations that they are not only unwanted in our country, but that we will use brute force against them," Amnesty International Malaysia wrote in the statement.
The NGO, while noting the rise in suicides among migrants and asylum seekers, warned that "strategic communications" and policies like the ones endorsed in the poster "foster a climate of hatred, violence, and xenophobia" and how they harm lives, justify discrimination, and punish people "for trying to survive".
"People will come because they want to survive. We can choose to spend so much money and resources on acts of violence and hatred, or we can create a response of care and protection," it said.
"The Malaysian government must explain why, especially in the time of a global pandemic, they have chosen to attack people in need. Refugees and migrants deserve to have their humanity upheld; Malaysians deserve a government that respects the rights and dignity of all."
For more, read Amnesty International Malaysia's explainer of why Rohingya people are taking the dangerous journey to leave Myanmar: