By Christine Khamis
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
ANDAMAN SEA AND MALACCA STRAIT, Off the Coastlines of Thailand and Malaysia–
Thousands of migrants are stranded in boats in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Thailand and in the Malacca Strait near the coast of Malaysia. The migrants have been unable to find asylum after fleeing from oppression and economic troubles in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Many of the migrants are Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar. There are over one million Rohingya in Myanmar and more than 100,000 have fled from persecution in recent years. The Rohingya are a minority in Myanmar and have faced systematic discrimination by Myanmar’s government. They are also subject to attacks by radical Buddhists. Anti-Muslim views are common among the people of Myanmar, many of whom are Buddhist.
In Myanmar, the Rohingya are not entitled to rights of citizenship, freedom of travel or access to education. Myanmar’s military government has stated that the Rohingya are Bengali migrants whose presence is an unwelcome reminder of colonialism in Myanmar. Bengladash’s government disagrees that the Rohingya are Bengalis and has made attempts to close its borders to the Rohingya migrants.
The other migrants traveling with the Rohingya are fleeing from economic hardship in Bangladesh. Legal migration is time consuming and expensive, so many of those migrating from Bangladesh have used the same trafficking routes and boats as the Rohingya.
Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia have all turned boats of refugees away at their shores, leaving the migrants with no option but to go back onto the open sea.
Malaysia turned away one such boat full of migrants on Wednesday. Malaysia has a shortage of unskilled labor, making it a prime destination for fleeing migrants. Malaysia has already admitted tens of thousands of Rohingya, but those who arrive through people trafficking routes are treated like illegal immigrants and are placed in slums. They are treated with discrimination and their only employment options are dangerous and low-paying jobs.
Although Malaysia has admitted a number of Rohingya, the recent surge in migrants reaching Malaysian and Indonesian shores has caused both countries to state that they will not accept any more migrants unless they are in extreme peril. A Malaysian official has stated that the rush of migrants is unwelcome and that the Malaysian government will not allow any illegal entries into Malaysia.
Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar has voiced concern that if Malaysia continues to admit the fleeing migrants, then hundreds of thousands more migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh will come to Malaysia.
A boat carrying an estimated 660 migrants arrived in Indonesia, a Muslim country, on Friday morning. Yet another boat was sighted in the Malacca Strait by the Indonesian Navy on Friday morning and was turned away before it could come ashore. Indonesia’s government has stated that illegal immigrants will not be admitted.
Another boat, carrying hundreds of migrants, reached the shore of Thailand on Thursday after journalists found it in the Andaman Sea of the Thailand shore. The boat’s crew had abandoned the boat without a working motor, leaving the passengers stranded without food and water. Although there are differing accounts of how many people aboard the ship have died, passengers have stated that 10 people on board the ship had died and were then thrown overboard, The Thai government repaired the boat’s engine and provided the passengers with supplies and enough fuel for 33 hours.
Thai authorities claimed that the passengers on board the ship wanted to continue their journey to Malaysia instead of getting out in Thailand. The boat had, however, already been turned away from Malaysia on Wednesday. A Thai reporter witnessed the boat’s parting and stated that some of the migrants aboard did not seem to want to leave. She stated that women on the ship were crying as the ship pulled away from the Thai coast.
While the Thai government has stated that its navy will give humanitarian aid to migrants, they do not want the migrants to settle down permanently in Thailand.
United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has stressed Myanmar’s responsibility for the migrants’ fleeing because of its discrimination against the Muslim Rohingya. He has stated that until discrimination against the Rohingya is addressed, the migration of the Rohingya refugees will continue.
For more information, please see:
CNN – We Will Send Rohingya Back, Says Malaysia, Amid Calls to Rescue Migrants – 15 May 2015
The New York Times – Boat With Hundreds of Migrants From Myanmar Heads Farther Out to Sea – 15 May 2015
BBC – ‘Ten Deaths’ on Stranded Myanmar Migrant Boat – 14 May 2015
The New York Times – How Myanmar and Its Neighbors Are Responding to the Rohingya Crisis – 14 May 2015