Although the Rohingya genocide and refugee crisis has been going on for almost three years now, the troubles of the asylum seekers stranded in Southeast Asian waters have only recently come to light after hundreds of migrants died in the Mediterranean Sea in April, prompting calls for action from the European Union.
“Up to 8,000 are believed to be stuck off Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian coasts, and those who made it to shore describe violence and starvation,” reports the Guardian.
Nearly 1.3 million Rohingya, a Muslim minority, live in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. They are officially stateless. The government regards them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. On the other hand Bangladesh has refused to grant Rohingyas refugee status since 1992.
However, the situation for the community deteriorated in 2012 when the “969 Movement” was initiated by "Buddhist Bin Laden" Ashin Wirathu. Apart from instigating violence, Wirathu and his followers endorsed and proposed several legislative measures and policies against the Rohingya.
Since then, the genocidal campaign caused hundreds of deaths and displaced more than 140,000 Muslims in almost three years.
To flee the atrocities at home, more than 120,000 Rohingya have tried to get out of Myanmar only to be abandoned in the middle of the sea by human traffickers and smugglers – with little to no food, water or any other necessary supplies.
Unwanted by their own country, these people are also unwelcome in neighboring Southeast Asian nations.
Moreover, fishermen in Aceh claim they have been told by officials not to rescue any refugee vessels, “even if they are drowning.”
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman has said he hopes to discuss the crisis with Myanmar "before it is brought to the international level” but has to take care of its “own interests too.”
Meanwhile, Burmese President Thein Sein's office deflected the blame for the plight of the Rohingya refugees, saying Myanmar will not attend Thai summit on crisis if the invitation mentions the name "Rohingya."
With such an unsympathetic response from their own country’s authorities, the ethnic minority has no hope of improvement in its situation.
Last week, while Washington acknowledged the Rohingya crisis, it appeared hesitant to provide any direct assistance in search and rescue when a State Department official called it a “regional issue” – one that needs a “regional solution.”
Apart from the violence the Rohingya face from Myanmar and other neighboring countries, scuffles between different groups of migrants have also been reported. Around 100 people died after a fight broke out over the last remaining food, BBC reports.
“Survivors told of horrific conditions. Three men separately said people were stabbed, hanged or thrown overboard.”
They have been driven out of their own country. Their neighbors don’t want them. They cannot survive in the middle of the sea. They have nowhere to go.
Despite what Washington claims, the persecution of Rohingya is not a local conflict. It’s undoubtedly one of the biggest humanitarian emergencies at present. Thousands of lives are at stake. The stateless “boat people” – as they are often called – need a collective response from the international community, as soon as possible.