Floating coffins | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 20, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:16 AM, May 27, 2015

Floating coffins

Tragedy of the Rohingya boat people

ONCE again the Rohingya crisis has come to the attention of the international mass media. This time thousands of Rohingyas are found adrift in the sea without adequate food, water and other provisions in their boats for several days. Several boats carrying Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants are found stranded in the Andaman Sea, Strait of Malacca and along the coast off Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia; the captain and crew of many of the boats that carried the migrants have abandoned them. 

Some boats carrying more than 2,000 people have been allowed to land in the Indonesian province of Aceh and the Malaysian offshore island of Lankawi, after fishermen rescued them when their boats were about to sink. However, the Indonesian authorities have turned away other boats approaching their coast without permitting them to land. The same has been done by Thailand and Malaysia. Navies from all these countries are patrolling their maritime borders round the clock to ensure that no such boats could land in their shores. According to reliable sources, at least 8,000 people including women and children, are drifting in the sea and have sent distress signals to rescue them while many are dying daily onboard. Although the United Nations, other international human rights organisations, many high profile politicians and individuals have been urging these countries to allow these distressed boat people to land on their shores on humanitarian grounds, so far, there is no indication of any positive response from these countries. The governments of the said countries are content pointing fingers at each other, as they insist that this is not their problem and it's not their responsibility to accommodate them. 

This fresh series of the Rohingya crisis began a few weeks ago after Thailand started massive crackdowns on human traffickers and smugglers, following the discovery of mass graves. The remains of more than 30 people, believed to be Rohingyas and possibly Bangladeshis, found in the jungles of southern Thailand where traffickers run several camps for dumping the trafficked people and extorting ransom from them, have been exhumed. 

Many high level Thai officials are allegedly involved in this human racket and Sothern Thailand is a transit station to smuggle people into Malaysia across their common land border. As the crackdown continues in Thailand, boats loaded with several hundred people cannot land in Thailand and therefore many of them have been forced to remain suspended in the sea while many traffickers abandon their boats.

The Rohingya people are not economic migrants as some people wrongly state. If they were economic migrants, why should Muslim Rohingyas be the only ones fleeing Arakan? What about the Buddhist Rakhines? Since 2012, thousands of Rohingyas died in Arakan, and more than 150,000 people have been herded in the so-called Internally Displaced People Camps. These camps are in fact glorified open air prisons with no adequate provisions for food, clothing, healthcare services and no expectation for a better future or hope to return to their former homes. 

Those who are living outside the IDP camps are also subjected to continuous oppression and repression, killing, torture, rape and slave labour. This tragic situation plaguing the Rohingya people compels them to take the hard decision of abandoning their centuries-old homes for the hope of a better future. 

The crux of the Rohingya migration problem lies in the attitude of the Myanmar regime whose treatment of the Rohingya people has been described as “crimes against humanity” or even “manifest genocide” by many international observers monitoring the Rohingya issue closely. However the Myanmar government, as usual, has been rejecting the call of humanity to change their policy regarding the Rohingya issue. 

Whatever be the steps that need to be taken by Myanmar's neighbours and the international community to find an ultimate, sustainable solution to this longstanding problem, saving the lives of tens of thousands of people, who are described as “floating coffins” on the surface of the sea, is the pressing call of the day. 

Therefore the international community must press the need to allow these people to land on the shores of the countries concerned on humanitarian grounds before it is too late. 

The  writer is a contributor.

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