About 80 percent of Bangladeshi migrant workers and Rohingya refugees surveyed in Malaysia required extra support due to the Covid-19 pandemic – with food, water and shelter being the most urgent needs cited, says a study.
The study was conducted between May 1 and 22 by Mixed Migration Centre Asia (MMC Asia) through interviewing Bangladeshi workers and Rohingyas residing in Malaysia to better understand their experiences and protection needs under the pandemic impacts.
The migration research organisation talked to 64 respondents – 44 Rohingyas and 20 Bangladeshis. About 52 percent of Rohingya respondents were women while 80 percent of the Bangladeshi ones were men. The survey targeted Bangladeshis and Rohingyas who had arrived in Malaysia in the past 24 months.
The Rohingya Women Development Network and Fortify Rights – two non-governmental organisations – referenced the study in their statement on the rights of Rohingyas and Bangladeshi migrants on Tuesday (June 23). The study's findings were published in the middle of this month on the MMC Asia website.
Around five lakh Bangladeshis are working in Malaysia, according to an unofficial estimate.
"Our migrant workers are doubly vulnerable amid the pandemic. However, the support Bangladeshi embassies, in different destination countries, is providing them with is absolutely inadequate," said Dr Syeda Rozana Rashid, a migration expert and a professor of International Relations at Dhaka University.
"The ground reality is there is a lack of trusted relations between Bangladesh's embassies and migrants as workers do not get their expected services. The manpower shortage at different embassies is one reason for this that we identified earlier," she added.
According to the respondents, the biggest impacts of Covid-19 included reduced access to work (49 responses), reduced availability of basic goods (44 responses) and increased psychological distress (38 responses).
Strict lockdown measures in Malaysia have led to widespread job losses, particularly among casual workers and those engaged in informal sectors.
Among the respondents, 31 Rohingyas and 10 Bangladeshis reported having lost income due to Covid-19. Three-quarters of all men (26 responses) and just over half of all women (15 responses) reported having lost income as a result of Covid-19.
Only six Bangladeshi respondents and one Rohingya respondent reported that they were able to continue working despite Covid-19 restrictions. The rest reported they were not earning before the crisis.
However, Bangladeshi embassy officials said that they were continuing the assistance programme to migrant workers in Malaysia.
Mohammad Zahirul Islam, labour counsellor of the Bangladesh embassy in Kuala Lumpur, said, "We are providing food and other assistance to our migrant workers during the movement control order in the country. More than 8,000 have already got food assistance."
Despite the reported increase in needs among both Rohingya and Bangladeshi respondents, only two-fifths of those interviewed received additional assistance since the Covid-19 outbreak.
Assistance they received included food, water and shelter (23 responses) while other kinds of assistance remained sparse, according to the study.
Fewer Bangladeshi respondents reported accessing additional support, and when they had, support had come from the Bangladeshi consulate (3 responses).
The Rohingya respondents reported non-governmental organisations (20 responses) and the United Nations (6 responses) to be the main sources of assistance they received.
Among the Rohingya respondents, 19 reported experiencing increased racism and xenophobia since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Rohingya Women Development Network and Fortify Rights, in a statement on Tuesday, urged the Malaysian government to end arbitrary arrests and detention of refugees and migrants.
"Instead, the government [of Malaysia] should provide basic protections to refugees and migrants during this global crisis to prevent the spread of the virus," said Sharifah Shakirah, founder and director of the organisation in Malaysia.