Another Southeast Asian nation has dropped its quarantine restrictions imposed by the Trump administration after it announced it was withdrawing U.S. protections for religious minorities in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
Malaysia’s government had ordered all the country’s citizens to leave Myanmar and then barred any who wish to resettle there. Even healthy individuals with passports from the United States, Canada, Australia and other countries could have been barred from traveling there.
But on Thursday, Malaysia’s immigration department suspended the orders and prohibited Malaysians from traveling to Myanmar, even as it lifted the bans against travelers from abroad, CNN reported.
“Effective immediately, Malaysians born in Myanmar are no longer required to obtain a medical certificate from the Ministry of Health prior to traveling,” Malaysia’s immigration department tweeted.
I, the honorable Minister of Home Affairs, will temporarily stop the implementation of the ban on travel by Malaysians to Myanmar. Effective immediately, Malaysians born in Myanmar are no longer required to obtain a medical certificate from the Ministry of Health prior to traveling. pic.twitter.com/gldoV4NgJV — Mohammad Safri Yaakob (@MHSAJF) December 6, 2018
The U.S. restrictions have had a destabilizing effect on the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of Muslims living in the Buddhist-majority nation. Most of them are Rohingya Muslims, the largest ethnic minority in Rakhine state, where violence erupted against the Rohingya in 2012, followed by a massive government campaign against the community to force them to leave.
The U.S. had demanded the government end its discrimination against the Rohingya and grant them citizenship before it would agree to lift the restrictions on the young nation. Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi had refused to do so despite calls from some in the international community to do so and the intense pressure from the U.S. president.
Myanmar was also the object of sanctions from the European Union in the aftermath of the violence in 2012, which were lifted after authorities ended the persecution of the Rohingya.
Myanmar’s ambassador to Malaysia, Chan Su Wai, told CNN he believed the easing of restrictions was “a result of good relations” between the countries.
Myanmar has designated Bangadesh as its new nation to be governed by the Rohingya if it is recognized by the UN. The country will hold a plebiscite in the first half of 2019 to determine whether the Rohingya should be allowed to register as citizens, a decision that is expected to anger the international community and ethnic Rakhine residents who will be pressured by the nationalist lobby.
“As always, the U.S. Department of State remains vigilant to certain regions that fall outside the U.S. government’s guidelines for countries with which we do not have full diplomatic relations to ensure the safety and welfare of American citizens,” Acting State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said in a statement to CNN.
We will “continue to watch” developments in the Rakhine state of Myanmar, Trudeau said.
The changing the rumblings from the Trump administration come as the situation in Burma has deteriorated.
On Tuesday, thousands of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists gathered in Naypyitaw in a rare show of public anger toward Suu Kyi for failing to halt discrimination against the Rohingya.
Myanmar is also in the middle of a punishing cyclone season which has caused floods and landslides that killed more than a hundred people.
Myanmar said 739 people have died and many more are missing as Tropical Cyclone Idai batters the northern part of the country.
Myanmar has faced U.N. criticism for not adequately accounting for nearly 250,000 Muslims who have fled over the border to Bangladesh after a crackdown by government troops in response to Rohingya insurgent attacks in August 2017.
Mattias J. Ström, an associate professor of International Relations at the University of Leuven in Belgium who researches genocide prevention, said the death toll is much higher. He said Myanmar continues to deny the allegations of genocide, though he noted that the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Myanmar concluded that genocide took place.
Stöm said the removal of the U.S. restrictions on Myanmar sends a strong message to the Rohingyas.
“This shows that Myanmar has gained positive engagement with its partners,” he said. “It’s all in concert and there is no longer the necessity for Americans to protect the most vulnerable elements of the Rohingya minority that are remaining.”
Fox News’ Chris Wang contributed to this report.