Myanmar pulls over-crowded migrant boat to ‘safe’ area

After holding asylum seekers in over-crowded boats offshore for days, Myanmar’s government finally allowing more than 700 migrants to disembark

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

A stranded fishing vessel packed with more than 700 asylum seekers on board was found in the Andaman Sea, Southeast Asia last week. Previously Myanmar’s Naval Forces had not allowed land passage to this ship for four days. After heavy criticism from the global community, the Myanmar Government took action.

Myanmar Government representative Information Minister Ye Htut has said, "The operation is starting. They will be taken to a safe destination," meaning more than 700 migrants will disembark soon. He also said the migrants were provided with food and water.

This statement only mentions “a safe destination” but does not provide specific details regarding “where.”

The Bangladeshi Government previously stated that they are willing to take back Bangladeshi citizens among the boat people. Regarding this statement, Minister Ye Htut of Myanmar emphasised that a verification process would take place first.

Asylum seekers fleeing southeast Asia are often jammed into over-crowded boats under abysmal conditions. They often struggle with starvation and dehydration.

Regarding the plight of the Southeast Asian boat people, Pope Francis said: "I continue to follow with profound worry and pain in my heart the stories of many refugees in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea," on May 24, 2015.

This boat, along with many others, carries hundreds of Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims, a stateless minority group from Rakhine state of Myanmar. The Myanmar Government refuses to use the “Rohingya” name. Instead, it uses the word “Bengali.”

The Myanmar government denies the identity of the Rohingya Muslim community as being part of Myanmar, claiming that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Thus more than 1 million Rohingyas have never been given citizenship and cannot access to basic services like healthcare or education.

US President Barack Obama on Monday said Myanmar needs to end discrimination against the Rohingya in order to make its fledgling democracy a success. Myanmar on the other hand denies the allegations of discrimination.

The UN recently estimated that the number of boat people still waiting for rescue at sea is to be around 2,000. Last week, 17 states participated in a meeting in Bangkok, aiming to find a resolution to the crisis that has seen thousands of people leaving their lands of origin to escape harsh conditions.

The Rohingya community, considered to be the world’s most persecuted ethnic minority by the United Nations, became the target of local nationalist Buddhist protests that turned into violent clashes in the summer of 2012. Since then, more than 100,000 people have fled Myanmar. The situation continues to be dire today as people-smuggling gangs exploit the plight of the Rohingya community. There have been cases when the smugglers chose to execute refugees when they could not deliver on their promises. Mass graves of refugees allegedly killed by these gangs were located in Malaysia recently.

Turkey pledged support to tackle the crisis. Last week the Turkish government donated 1 million dollars to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for the Rohingya Muslims. Along with the economic support, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also offered assistance with building settlement centres for Rohingya Muslims in Malaysia and Indonesia, two of the most frequent destinations of the boat people.

TRTWorld and agencies