Malaysia and Thailand turn away hundreds on migrant boats

Malaysia and Thailand turn away hundreds on migrant boats

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An estimated 6,000 Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis are stranded at sea as south-east Asian nations turn back refugees

The UN has called for south-east Asian nations to respect international law amid a growing humanitarian crisis.

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis abandoned at sea by human traffickers have nowhere to go after Malaysia turned away two boats crammed with more than 800 migrants, and Thailand kept at bay a third boat with hundreds more.

“What do you expect us to do?” Malaysian deputy home minister Wan Junaidi Jafaar said. “We have been very nice to the people who broke into our border. We have treated them humanely but they cannot be flooding our shores like this.”

“We have to send the right message that they are not welcome here,” he said, just days after about 1,000 refugees landed on the shores of Langkawi, a popular resort island in northern Malaysia near Thailand. Another 600 have arrived surreptitiously in Indonesia.

The Thai prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, said his government did not have resources to host refugees.

“If we take them all in, then anyone who wants to come will come freely. I am asking if Thailand will be able to take care of them all. Where will the budget come from?” Prayuth said. “No one wants them. Everyone wants a transit country like us to take responsibility. Is it fair?”

South-east Asia, which for years tried to quietly ignore the plight of Burma’s 1.3 million Rohingya, finds itself caught in a spiralling humanitarian crisis. In the last three years, more than 120,000 members of the Muslim minority, who are intensely persecuted in Buddhist-majority Burma, have boarded ships to flee to other countries, paying huge sums of money to human traffickers.

But faced with a crackdown by security forces of various countries, the smugglers have been abandoning the ships, leaving an estimated 6,000 refugees to fend for themselves, according to reliable aid workers and human rights groups.

“This is a grave humanitarian crisis demanding an immediate response,” said Matthew Smith, executive director of nonprofit human rights group Fortify Rights. “Lives are on the line.”

Despite appeals by the UN and international aid agencies, no government in the region – neither the Thai, Indonesian nor Malaysian – appears willing to take them in, fearing that accepting a few would result in an unstoppable flow of poor, uneducated migrants.

Wan Junaidi said about 500 people on board a boat found on Wednesday off the coast of northern Penang state were given provisions and then sent on their way. Another boat carrying about 300 migrants was turned away near Langkawi island overnight, according to two Malaysian officials.

Meanwhile, Thai authorities also spotted a boat with migrants on the sea border between Thailand and Malaysia.

They had been given food and water, Captain Chayut Navespootikorn, a senior naval official, said.

“To bring them into our country is not our policy,” he said. “If they need fuel or food to go on [to a third country] we would help them with it.”

Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants are seen in a truck as they arrive at a naval base before being transferred to Kuala Kedah jetty with the navy ship ‘KD Mahawangsa’, in Langkawi, Malaysia, 14 May

Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants arrive by truck at a naval base in Langkawi, Malaysia. Photograph: Fazry Ismail/EPA

Malaysia, which is not a signatory to international conventions on refugees, is host to more than 150,000 refugees and people seeking asylum, the majority from Burma. More than 45,000 of them are Rohingya, according to the UN refugee agency.

But because they have no legal status, job opportunities are limited. They also have little or no access to basic services such as education and healthcare, and are vulnerable to arrests and deportation. A small number are resettled in third countries.

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch Asia accused Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia of playing “a three-way game of human ping pong”. At the same time, the three countries and others in south-east Asia have for years bowed to the wishes of Burma at regional conferences, avoiding all discussions of state-sponsored discrimination against the Rohingya.

Rohingya women migrants and children stand in a queue to board a Malaysian Navy ship at the naval base in Langkawi on May 14, 2015 to be transferred to a mainland immigration depot

Rohingya migrants stand in a queue to board a Malaysian navy ship in Langkawi. Photograph: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images

Denied citizenship by national law, members of the Rohingya minority are effectively stateless. They have limited access to education or adequate healthcare and cannot move around freely. They have been attacked by the military and chased from their homes and land by extremist Buddhist mobs.

Wan Junaidi said it was time to put pressure on Burma, a former pariah state, to address the Rohingya crisis.

“You talk about democracy, but don’t treat your citizens like trash, like criminals until they need to run away to our country,” he said.

Increasingly over the years, Rohingya boarding boats in the Bay of Bengal have been joined by people from neighbouring Bangladesh, most of them seeking an escape from poverty.

Hundreds of migrants rescued from boats off Indonesia say they hope to make it to Australia.

For those fleeing, the first stop until recently was Thailand, where migrants were held in jungle camps until their families could raise hefty ransoms so they could continue onward. Recent security crackdowns forced the smugglers to change tactics, instead holding people on large ships parked offshore.

Initially they were shuttled to shore in groups on smaller boats after their “ransoms” were paid. But as agents and brokers on land got spooked by arrests – not just of traffickers but also police and politicians – they went into hiding.
That created a bottleneck, with migrants stuck on boats for


5 MAY 2015


Dear Chief Editors,

Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia (MERHROM) was deeply sad to hear about the finding of more than 30 graves of Rohingya in Sadao, Thailand. This news is not new to us. Ethnic Rohingya who fled prosecutions from the Myanmar government are vulnerable and always ended in this kind of situation. We became victims at every stage in our journey to seek refuge in neighboring countries. We became boat people in our journey to seek protection. Thousand of Rohingya died in the ocean over the years. Every years tens of thousands ethnic Rohingya men, women, children and elderly fled Arakan State due systematic prosecutions by the Myanmar government. We believe many more graves of Rohingya in Thailand as we continuously heard about it.

For many years Thailand has been giving bad treatment for ethnic Rohingya who seek refuge in Thailand. We were treated as illegal immigrant and faced deportation to Myanmar. Ethnic Rohingya are not illegal immigrants. We are asylum seekers who fled Genocide from the Myanmar government and should be given treatment as asylum seekers according to the International Law. It is well-known that Thai authorities are involved in the Trafficking chain but nothing was done by the Thai government to tackle the problem.

We feel very sad that ASEAN SUMMIT 2015 has just ended with the spirit of ASEAN COMMUNITY but today we heard about this shocking news. This is the time that the ASEAN Government must deal with the Myanmar government to stop the gross human rights violations towards ethnic Rohingya.

We felt very frustrated that the Rohingya’s plight was not discussed during the ASEAN SUMMIT 2015. We are suffering for very long time. We hope for the ASEAN SUMMIT 2015 to discuss our plight but it was not discussed and our fate remains the same. Rohingya issue is not only an internal issue of Myanmar but it is an internal ASEAN issue that needs to be resolved after long ignorance by the ASEAN Government.

Ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar faced continuous Genocide from Myanmar government. But there is no real action taken by the ASEAN Countries and the United Nations.

We call for the ASEAN Government to intervene with Myanmar to stop prosecutions towards ethnic Rohingya and recognize Rohingya as citizen.

We call the Thai government to prosecute all perpetrators in human trafficking including the government officials.

We call the United Nations to send an Independent Inquiry to Thailand for investigation and publish its report for further actions.

We call the Government of the United States to take up this issue with the ASEAN Governments to end Human Trafficking in the region.

Thank you.

Prepared by,

Zafar Ahmad Bin Abdul Ghani
Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia (MERHROM)
Tel No: +6016-6827287

 Therefore we urge the United Nations, OIC, ASEAN, World Leaders, International Organizations and International Communities for the followings:

1. add more pressure to the junta to recognize ethnic Rohingya as a citizen of Burma with equal rights. The Citizenship Law 1982 must be change to ensure due recognition of the right to citizenship of the Rohingya in Burma
2. stop referring Rohingyas as Bengalis as we the ethnic Rohingya are the origin people of Arakan State
3. United Nations Security Council must send its Peace Keeping Mission to Arakan State urgently to stop and monitor the human rights violations
4. strong pressure to the junta to stop the ethnic cleansing towards ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar and Recognize Rohingya as citizen during upcoming United Nations General Assembly

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