The Southeast Asian region currently encounters a full-scale refugee catasthrope. Thousands of individuals, most of whom are Rohingya Muslims escaping government-sponsored persecution in Myanmar, are abandoned at sea, caught between a home country that renounces them citizenship rights and a regional neighborhood apparently impervious to their adversity.
The reaction of neighbouring countries from Bangladesh to Indonesia to Malaysia has been: "It's not our problem, it's Myanmar's."
Boatloads of suffering migrants have been reaching on the coasts of several Southeast Asian countries in the past week. However, instead of offering them much-needed help to these sufferers, these governments have simply propeled them back out to international waters. It is reported that as many as 8000 Rohingyas are currently stranded in the Andaman Ocean and Malacca straits. Such a reaction is strongly repugnant and ineffective.
No government in Southeast Asia, as well as in the neighboring Myanmar, should abscond from accountability for this evolving catasthrope. The refugee problem as well as the suppression that has caused it are quandaries that require a unified solution by the whole international community.
The suppression of the Rohingya community has been going on for decades. Since 1982, these people have been denied citizenship rights and have been perceived illegal immigrants in their own homeland. Consequently, hatred, torture, and killings have become a horrific daily reality for them. They have simply become the most unwanted people on the planet. The nearby countries such as Thailand and Bangladesh do not want the persecuted Rohingyas to settle there either.
It can no longer be ignored now that the brutal suppression against Rohingya Muslims must end soon. It is more than obvious that these people are in dire need of serious and concrete efforts by both the government in Rangoon and the international community to alleviate their deteriorating condition.
Countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh, and Malaysia must end their pushbacks of boats with Rohingya migrants and asylum seekers. Instead, these governments should bring them aground and offer desperately needed aid. These countries should grant refugee status to these asylum seekers feeling the consternations in Rakhine State.
More voices must join those speaking out in support of their rights. Simultaneously, the UN and other humanitarian organisations must accelerate the delivery of aid to Rohingya community under suppression accross Myanmar as well as those who have become refugees in neighboring countries.
It important to note, however, that ultimately the real solution to all these catasthropes lies in Myanmar. The international community must be able to pressure the government in Rangoon to bring an end their suppression against Rohingya Muslims. Investigations need to be conducted and those who are responsible have to be brought to justice.
The United States must also make clear that Myanmar cannot do 'business as usual' with Washington as long as it participates in crimes against humanity. Early this month, a senior official of the Myanmar government, Thura Shwe Mann, was welcomed to the White House. Mann is known to have allied himself with anti-Rohingya positions. Ironically, in its press statement afterward, Washington decided to avoid using the word 'Rohingya,' seemingly in order not to offend the Myanmar government.
It is difficult to see when all of this going to end, but one thing needs to be made clear: If we remain silent, all of us will eventually have to pay a heavy price.