Editorial: Rohingya refugees deserve far better

Editorial: Rohingya refugees deserve far better
Updated 24 January 2013

Editorial: Rohingya refugees deserve far better

Editorial: Rohingya refugees deserve far better

Refugees are a nuisance. That is a reality. Settled, stable communities around the world that find themselves hosting frightened and traumatized people, with little more than the clothes they stand up in, often with limited understanding of the language and culture of the land to which they have fled, can pose a threat to public order. They will inevitably disrupt the lives of the people in whose world they have arrived.
Yet the challenge posed by refugees cannot be ignored. They are vulnerable, pauperized and afraid. Common humanity dictates that a society which finds itself hosting people driven into exile, must do its best to take care of them. Along with their government, they must be prepared to extend shelter, concern and friendship to refugees.
And by and large, this is what has been seen. Turks, Jordanians and Lebanese have been prepared to do what they can to assist those who have fled from Assad’s monstrous repression in Syria. However there have been some deplorable exceptions to this generous behavior. One of the most unforgivable has been taking place in Thailand, with the treatment of Muslim Rohingya who have fled bloody persecution by Myanmar’s Buddhist majority. To escape the massacres, which the Burmese police and military seem to be doing little to stop, let alone investigate, thousands of Rohingya have taken to flimsy, overcrowded boats in an attempt to reach the friendlier and more welcoming shores of Malaysia
The Thai government appears to have instituted a policy of intercepting these vessels, if they stray into its territorial waters, detaining the passengers and then deporting them overland back into Burma. This is both heartless and a contravention of international law, which demands that the status of all refugees be first established clearly, before any action is taken on their future. If they prove to be economic migrants, merely seeking a better life than in their home country, then there are circumstances in which they can be repatriated. However, if they are political refugees, whose lives will be in danger if they go home, then they have to be granted asylum, or at the very least, be looked after until they can find another country that will be prepared to accept them.
Tragically, thanks to an investigation carried out by the BBC, it turns out that Thai officials are doing something even worse. They are taking Rohingya that they have detained and selling them to people traffickers. The inhuman criminals then either use their victims as slave labor or demand their families back home raise a ransom, before they will be released. Once free, these wretched individuals, without papers or money, are left to fend for themselves.
It is hard to find a word that can adequately describe the Thai officials who are prepared to stoop so low and trade in human misery, to put food on their own family tables. It cannot be that the authorities in Bangkok approve of this disgusting conduct. It has been announced that an investigation will be held into the BBC’s findings.
The Muslim world in particular will be watching to see that the Thais involved are identified and properly punished.
Meanwhile, the Rohingya who remain in Myanmar will not have been encouraged by the recent actions of the Burmese government toward another minority. The Burmese Army last week broke a truce with Kachin rebels, that was only days old. They launched a fresh assault on the Kachins, who unlike the Rohingya, have long rejected Burmese rule.
The army has resumed a drive toward the Kachin capital, Laiza.
The truce it seems, was a ruse to put the rebels off their guard and no doubt also allow the government forces to bring up fresh formations and equipment. What is significant here is that the Burmese government has been prepared to cast aside an agreement, only days after the ink of their own signature was dry. This bodes badly for all the assurances that have been given, both to the international community and the Rohingya people themselves, that the government intends to clamp down on Buddhist attacks and persecution and ensure that the Rohingya are protected and treated with respect.
Myanmar is currently enjoying the sight of international businesses falling over themselves to try and get back into the country, now that the military is apparently withdrawing from politics and marching back to the barracks where they belong. Business of course, generally follows the money, not the morality. But maybe it is time for the Burmese to be given a warning that their international political rehabilitation is not yet a done deal.