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Thousands of Bangladeshi, Burma Rohingya Migrants Stranded at Sea in Southeast Asia

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This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com:

  • Thousands of Bangladeshi and Burma Rohingya migrants stranded at sea in southeast Asia
  • Southeast Asian nations face a flood of migrants
  • U.S. under pressure to help Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants
  • EU proposes refugee shelters in Niger to house illegal migrants headed for Europe

Thousands of Bangladeshi and Burma Rohingya migrants stranded at sea in southeast Asia

Rohingya migrants arriving in Indonesia on Friday (AP)
Rohingya migrants arriving in Indonesia on Friday (AP)

Nearly 800 migrants from Burma and Bangladesh were rescued by local fishermen when their boat sank off the eastern coast of Indonesia. The migrants were brought to shore, given food and water, and placed in a warehouse.

Those were the lucky ones. It’s estimated that there are 6,000 to 8,000 migrants in vastly overcrowded boats in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Officials that these three countries are preventing them from reaching land. When one of the boats is spotted, the authorities supply food, water and fuel to the hundreds of people on board, and then push the boat back out into the Andaman Sea, sending it on its way. Some migrants have been at sea for weeks.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein:

“I am appalled at reports that Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia have been pushing boats full of vulnerable migrants back out to sea, which will inevitably lead to many avoidable deaths. The focus should be on saving lives, not further endangering them.”

A government official in Malaysia countered:

“What do you expect us to do? 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.”

According to Thailand’s prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha:

“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? No one wants them. Everyone wants a transit country like us to take responsibility. Is it fair?”

(AP and VOA)

Southeast Asian nations face a flood of migrants

This situation has gained international attention ever since Rohingya “death camps” and “slave camps” were found in southern Thailand, as this writer reported last week.

As I described in that article, Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (Burma) who had lived there for generations are being slaughtered and driven from their homes by Buddhists led by Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu. The Rohingyas, described by the United Nations as “the most persecuted ethnic group in the world,” are not even recognized as Rohingyas by Burma’s government, who refer to them as Bangladeshis. Because of the Buddhist violence, they’ve been fleeing Burma into the Bay of Bengal in small boats, heading south and hoping to land in Thailand, Indonesia or Malaysia.

There are about 1.3 million Rohingya in Burma, and in the last three years more than 120,000 of them have boarded ships to flee to other countries. They are joined by Bangladeshis from Bangladesh who are also fleeing to the south because of poverty, hoping to find work.

The discovery of the death camps and slave camps has made Thai officials to announce that they will criminally prosecute for illegal entry any refugees who land on Thai soil. According to a spokesman for Thai’s military junta:

“We have given the navy a clear policy that those who plan to land on the Thai coast are welcome to do so and we will give them humanitarian assistance. But we will treat them in accordance with our laws about illegal entry into the country.”

As a result, thousands of these migrants are scooped up by human traffickers who charge thousands of dollars to take them further south, often demanding that they call their families to secure payment. Stories of rape of women and children, starvation and disease are common, as well as violent fights when water and food run out. But because of the crackdown on human trafficking in the past few weeks, many of the traffickers are just setting the boats adrift. When one of the boats arrives on the shore of one of the southeast Asian nations, the migrants are given food and water, and the boats are towed back out to sea.

According to one lawyer, countries towing boats back to see are probably in breach of international law:

“These boats carrying overcrowded refugees and migrants are typically rickety wooden trawlers and hardly seaworthy. Turning or towing these boats away is as good as signing their death warrant as the occupants are normally starving, dehydrated, sickly and in dire need of immediate assistance.”

Attention is turning now to the suspected traffickers who have a “systemic kidnapping scheme” targeting Rohingya in Burma, who would then be held for ransom in Thailand. (NPR and Bloomberg)

U.S. under pressure to help Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants

Human rights groups and some in Congress are demanding that the U.S. do something to help solve the migrant crisis in southeast Asia.

Democratic Representative Joe Crowley, “These men, women, children and infants are refugees fleeing well-founded fear of persecution and their deaths may well constitute a mass atrocity in the heart of ASEAN.” (ASEAN = Association of Southeast Asian Nations.) He called on the U.S. to provide humanitarian assistance to the migrants.

State Dept. spokesman Jeff Rathke said, “This is a regional issue. It needs a regional solution in short order.” (AP)

EU proposes refugee shelters in Niger to house illegal migrants headed for Europe

The European Union and Niger are considering a plan to build a string of refugee shelters in Niger to dissuade illegal African migrants from trying to reach Europe, and instead offer local alternatives.

According to Niger’s president Mahamadou Issoufou, this will “attack the problem at its root”:

“These problems of great migrations are much like those of the rural exodus. People are leaving the countryside to the cities driven by poverty, the same way people leave poor countries to go to rich countries, simply because their situation is untenable.”

Eighteen hundred people have died in shipwrecks in the Mediterranean since the beginning of this year. Earlier this week, lawmakers in Niger adopted a law calling for prison sentences of up to 30 years for smugglers of illegal immigrants in a bid to stem the flow of migrants across Africa into Europe. (Arab News/AFP)

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Myanmar, Burma, Rohingya, Buddhists, Muslims, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Prayuth Chan-ocha, Ashin Wirathu, Jeff Rathke, Joe Crowley, European Union, Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou
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