Monday, May 18, 2015

A miserable game of ‘maritime ping pong’

At last the plight of the Rohingya from Myanmar/Burma has gotten world media attention for longer than a day.  I’m sure it’s thanks to in part to some good investigative reporting, and some tireless advocacy by our colleague Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project (, who’s been tracking these refugees almost since the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. But what has probably gotten people talking about the inhumane abominations that the Rohingya have faced and are still facing is that, like the tsunami, the magnitude of the issue has now shown itself and is staggering.  Year after year, thousands upon thousands of people, whose home country has been Myanmar for generations, have been denied rights, citizenship, basic human needs, housing, employment, physical safety, medical care and dignity.  They have been persecuted, raped, tortured for fun, and killed by the Buddhist majority, often led by monks.  

 this boat full of Rohingya refugees was abandoned by traffickers and left adrift; Rohingya are jumping off the boat to get supplies dropped into the water

When 200 Rohingya landed in the north of Aceh Timur 2009 it was a chore for JMD to find anyone other than the Acehnese people, themselves living at the poverty level, to help set up temporary shelters and provide basic medical care.  Now, the world is watching as Indonesia (Aceh again) takes in 300 more and news of 6,000 left to die at sea has people “debating” on line and in the press the “correct” way of dealing with refugees.

An otherwise good article from NPR (“Why No One Wants the Rohingyas,” March 15, by Scott Neuman) goes into detail about what UNHCR is saying about migrants in general, about trafficking issues in Thailand and elsewhere, about how the US State Department thinks this is a “regional issue.”  Etc. etc. etc. Its still an academic luncheon for many people.  And none of the many comments on this report mention Myanmar.  Not one.

[“You can’t have these people float around until they die. ASEAN, take in Rohingya Muslims!”  ]

Only the most recent article from AFP (French media outlet) has quoted someone, finally, talking about Myanmar—the Rohingya’s country of origin, in a way that tries to hold it accountable.

“‘These are not people who are making choices. They are being forced out of their country,’ said Amy Smith of Fortify Rights ( They are denied citizenship and scrape by in appalling conditions.”
“The regional blame-game has escalated with both Thailand and Malaysia calling on Myanmar to stem the flow of Rohingya, 1.3 million of whom live in the western state of Rakhine. Myanmar maintains they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.” [even though the majority have lived in Myanmar for over 3 generations!  And while I’m at it, who would ever call this a “blame game?”  There is no game to play—these people are from Myanmar—period.]

“Myanmar ‘should deal with the Rohingya community internally instead of forcing it on its (Southeast Asian) neighbours,’ Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was quoted by local media on Sunday as saying, in an unusually strong rebuke to a fellow member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
But Myanmar has so far stuck to its line, denying that the Rohingya exist as a minority group on its soil and maintaining they belong to Bangladesh. It has also threatened to snub planned regional talks on the crisis called for May 29 in Bangkok.”
Indonesia has, as far as I can tell, stepped up more than any other country to assist the Rohingya.  But the enormity of the issue, and Myanmar’s as-yet unchallenged refusal to concede that what they are doing is tantamount to genocide, is for the moment keeping this particular world horror in the public eye.

Which is the only good that has come out of this.

And where, might I ask, is Angelina Jolie THIS time???

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