Saturday, May 16, 2015


Jakarta, May 16, 2015 (Antara) -- Thousands of Rohingya Muslims aboard wooden boats were stranded at sea for months, trying to escape the poverty and discrimination they faced in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, their own country that does not want them.
       On May 15, 2015, some 648 Rohingya asylum-seekers were found stranded in the Malacca Strait some 20 miles from Pusong Beach, East Aceh district, Aceh Darussalam province, and were finally rescued by local fishermen.
       They fled their homeland aboard two vessels. After one of them sank, all the refugees on board the boat were transferred to the barge.
        When the refugees were found by some local fishermen, they were found suffering from severe dehydration and starvation as they had been floating aboard the barge for many days before being rescued. 

  On the same day (May 15) in Aceh Darussalam's neighboring province of North Sumatra, 96 Rohingyas, including 83 men, eight women and five children, were also rescued by local fishermen after being stranded in the waters of Pangkalan Susu sub-district, Langkat district.

        Chief of the Pangkalan Susu Sub-District Chapter of the Indonesian Youth National Committee (KNPI) Hendi Permana Siregar said there were 83 men, eight women and five children among the refugees.
         On May 10, as many as 587 refugees, including women and children, from Myanmar had also been found stranded in the waters of North Aceh district. They were then given shelter in Kuala Cangkoi village, Lapang sub-district, some 300 kilometers from the Aceh provincial capital of Banda Aceh.
        According to AFP report quoting Sunarya, a police chief of Langsa city in Aceh, a number of Rohingya migrants were sent away by the Malaysian Navy to the border of Indonesian waters.
        Another boat packed with desperate Rohingya migrants was also believed to be en route to Indonesia after leaving the waters of Thailand overnight after the kingdom blocked it from entering, according to the AFP.
       Governor of Aceh Darussalam Zaini Abdullah has provided aid, such as food and clothing loaded in three trucks, to the Rohingya Muslims, who are in dire need of assistance.
         Some of the asylum-seekers, both in Aceh Darussalam and North Sumatra, are receiving medical treatment due to their deteriorating health condition after being at sea for several days.  
   In North Sumatra, some 25 Rohingyas received infusion therapy or were given stitches for wounds. There were also migrants who suffered broken bones, Dr. Hasbi of the Pangkalan Susu community health center revealed on May 16.
         Moreover, inhabitants of both Aceh and North Sumatra are eager to help the poor refugees who claimed that they had been at sea for three months and ten days.
         Hendi Pernama, a resident of Pangkalan Susu, said that a number of local residents had contributed food, clothes and blankets for the stranded Rohingya Muslims.
        In addition, the Langkat administration has opened a public kitchen, providing mineral water and food for them.
        Despite the warm welcome from local villagers, Indonesian authorities are, in fact, taking a firm stance against the Rohingya migrants.
        "They will not be allowed to enter our region. If they do, they may create social problems," Commander of the Indonesian Military (TNI) General Moeldoko told the press in Jakarta on May 15.
        General Moeldoko pointed out that as long as they only passed through the Malacca Strait, the TNI will be ready to help them in case they face difficulties.
        "If they have no water or food, we will help because it will then be a humanitarian problem. However, if they enter our region, it will be the TNI's duty to safeguard the country's sovereignty," he explained.
         The TNI commander further noted that a considerable number of Rohingyas were leaving their country. "If we open access, there will be an exodus here," he cautioned.
        Similarly, Indonesia's neighboring countries of Malaysia and Thailand have also frequently sent boats packed with Rohingyas back to sea.
        Recently, a boat carrying some 500 people was found off the coast of Penang Island in northern Malaysia. This week, Malaysian authorities said they would use punitive measures, including pushing back boats and deporting migrants and refugees, to send the "right message" to irregular arrivals, according to Amnesty International.
        In another ASEAN country, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, whose government has announced that a regional meeting on the crisis will be held on May 29, noted that his country did not have the resources to look after the migrants.
        "Right now, we have to find a place for them to stay. In the future, if many more of them come, it will cause a problem. They will steal the jobs and livelihoods of Thais."
   Furthermore, U.N. Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein remarked in Geneva on May 15 that the flow of desperate migrants across the Bay of Bengal will continue unless Myanmar puts an end to discrimination against its Rohingya Muslim minority, Reuters reported.
        "Until the Myanmar government addresses the institutional discrimination against the Rohingya population, including equal access to citizenship, this precarious migration will continue," he said in a statement.
        Al Hussein also pointed out that the situation in Myanmar's Rakhine state, the place of origin of many of the migrants, was "one of the principal motivators of these desperate maritime movements."
   The Rohingya minority is described by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted peoples.
        "Criminalizing such vulnerable people, including children, and placing them in detention is not the solution," he was quoted as saying by Reuters.
         Some 25,000 migrants, mainly Rohingyas and Bangladeshis, fled their countries by boat in the first three months of this year, with many of them smuggled or trafficked to Thailand and held in camps until they paid to reach the Malaysian border, Reuters wrote.
        Thousands were abandoned at sea in flimsy vessels after Thailand launched a crackdown on people-smugglers. Also, the navies of Southeast Asian countries have pushed many away from their coasts.
        In the meantime, Amnesty International has urged the governments of Southeast Asian nations, including Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia, to step up urgent search and rescue efforts to ensure that thousands of Rohingya people stranded in boats are not left in dire circumstances and at risk of death.
          "Governments in Southeast Asia must act immediately to stop this unfolding humanitarian crisis. It is crucial that countries in the region launch coordinated search and rescue operations to save those at sea. Anything less could be a death sentence for thousands of people," Kate Schuetze, Amnesty International Asia-Pacific Researcher, said in a press statement on May 15.
        "Malaysian authorities have a duty to protect and not punish the hundreds of people who reached the country's shores today. They must be given the medical care they desperately need and in no circumstances be sent back to sea or transferred to a place where their rights or lives are put at risk," Schuetze emphasized.
         "Comments by the authorities that they will turn back those arriving on boats are an affront to human dignity. What's more, if authorities follow through with these threats, they will be violating Malaysia's international legal obligations," she added.
        The thousands of people who fled Bangladesh and Myanmar include vulnerable migrants, refugees such as Rohingya Muslims fleeing discrimination and violence in Myanmar, and victims of human trafficking.
        Many are desperate enough to put their own lives at risk by braving dangerous journeys at sea to escape unbearable conditions at home.
      "The thousands of lives at risk should be the immediate priority, but the root causes of this crisis must also be addressed. The fact that thousands of Rohingyas prefer a dangerous boat journey they may not survive to staying in Myanmar speaks volumes about the conditions they face there," Schuetze observed.

No comments:

Post a Comment