KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian government says it is unaware of Myanmar's plans to lift a ban imposed in December on workers coming to Malaysia.
The Myanmar government had told Channel NewsAsia it could lift the freeze as soon as this month. The Labour, Immigration and Population Minister says it is waiting for a final confirmation that it will be safe for Myanmar workers to return.
The ban was issued in the wake of Malaysia's vocal criticism of Myanmar's alleged mistreatment of its ethnic minority, the Rohingya,
"The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place," Prime Minister Najib Razak had said at a pro-Rohingya rally in Kuala Lumpur in December, slamming Myanmar's de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi as well.
When approached by Channel NewsAsia, neither Malaysia's Human Resources Minister Richard Riot nor Deputy Foreign Minister Reezal Merican was aware of any lifting of the ban - an act which could be viewed as a sign of easing political tensions.
Mr Reezal would only say he believes progress has been made toward what Malaysia wanted for the Rohingya: international attention about the crisis and unimpeded humanitarian access to the site of the conflict, Rakhine state.
"At the multilateral level, which is at the (UN) Human Rights Council, there is already fact-finding missions that have been established and that are continuing though it was not well accepted by the (Myanmar) government, but it still ongoing," he said on Friday (Jun 16).
"So i must say there is quite a positive progress as far as humanitarian conduct is concerned. but as far as what you just pointed out, I do not have that information."
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has said Myanmar's security forces committed mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya in a campaign that "very likely" amounted to crimes against humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing, in a report published in February.
The military has denied the accusations, reportedly alleging "out of 18 accusations included in OHCHR's report, 12 were found to be incorrect, with the remaining six found to be false and fabricated, based on lies and invented statements".
A LIFT ON THE BAN TO ONLY BENEFIT MYANMAR?
According to Home Ministry figures, there were close to 140,000 Myanmar nationals working legally in Malaysia when the ban was imposed.
However, the freeze has not had a significant impact on industries here as other labour-supplying nations like Indonesia send more than five times that number of workers to Malaysia.
"Malaysia was able to source for new foreign workers during the material time from other countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Indonesia," Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Shamsuddin Bardan told Channel NewsAsia.
The manufacturing sector - which employs the majority of Myanmar workers in Malaysia - was initially concerned about the ban but has remained relatively unaffected since.
"The Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) would always welcome additional source countries to provide employers with a wider choice of foreign workers.
In this respect, the news that Myanmar is expected to lift its ban on sending workers to Malaysia this month is viewed as positive," a spokesperson told Channel NewsAsia.
"(However), employers who had previously sourced workers from Myanmar would have since adjusted and requested for a change of source country from the authorities following the ban.
Former Malaysian foreign minister and ex-Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) special envoy to Myanmar Syed Hamid Albar believes "in this particular case it is more in the interest of Myanmar to lift the ban".
"Hopefully it is mutually beneficial. Bilateral relations must satisfy the national interest of both countries," he told Channel newsAsia.
"Myanmar must realise stability and security of Myanmar is of interest to Malaysia. Treatment of minorities is important to Malaysia to prevent the flow of refugees."
Close to 58,000 Rohingya are registered with the UN refugee agency in Malaysia.