Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is frequently criticized for his Draconian “stop the boats” policy to deal with asylum-seekers.
But what about other developed countries that have the same severe approach – if not a proper law, like Australia – toward migrants fleeing prosecution in their countries on boats?
After southeast Asian nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand refused to let Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants near their shores, the United States came under international pressure to address and help the stranded asylum seekers – essentially asking the U.S. to live up to its status as a world champion of human rights.
However, while Washington is gradually becoming more vocal about the issue, it clearly appears hesitant to provide any direct assistance in search and rescue. Just look at what a U.S. official recently said of the crisis.
"This is a regional issue. It needs a regional solution in short order," State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters.
Although Rathke is not entirely incorrect about migrants fleeing their countries as a result of internal conflicts, demanding a regional solution is wrong.
In fact, there would have been no boats coming from Myanmar (Burma) in the first place had the world powers paid heed to the plight of the ethnic Rohingya minority there.
Nearly 1.3 million Rohingya, a Muslim minority, live in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. However, they are regarded as “outsiders” or migrants from Bangladesh. The situation for the community deteriorated in 2012 when the “969 Movement” was initiated by "Buddhist Bin Laden" Ashin Wirathu.
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 minority Rohingya Muslims have paid huge sums to human smugglers only to be abandoned in the middle of the sea with no food, water or any other necessary supplies.
It has been going on for almost three years now, however, the troubles of the Rohingya asylum seekers 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.
Myanmar’s government remains helpless to Buddhist nationalists and cannot be relied on for a regional solution. Case in point: Temporary voting rights given to the Rohingya minority were revoked by President Thein Sein earlier in February after hundreds of Buddhist extremists took to the streets of Yangon.
There have been numerous calls for international action but world leaders have shown from little to no interest in the issue. Last year, when Obama visited Myanmar, a U.S.-based activist organization “United to End Genocide” launched an online initiative called #JustSayTheirName, which was designed to encourage the U.S. president to address the Rohingya issue and thereby let the entire world know about their plight.
While the campaign made headlines, there was no significant response from Obama.
Following the Mediterranean disaster, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres was right when he said "there is a collective responsibility of the international community” when it comes to ghost ships carrying asylum seekers.
Just like the regional conflict in Myanmar has become a global issue, the migrant boats stranded in Southeast Asian waters – or elsewhere in the world – also deserve international attention and subsequent humanitarian response.