ASEAN, which in the last leaders’ meeting in Kuala Lumpur in April called itself people-centered, should take in the thousands of Rohingya refugees who have escaped persecution in Burma and are stranded in boats off Malaysia and Indonesia.
May 15, 2015 4:31 PM
The online news portal of TV5
MANILA – ASEAN, which in the last leaders’ meeting in Kuala Lumpur in April called itself people-centered, should take in the thousands of Rohingya refugees who have escaped persecution in Burma and are stranded in boats off Malaysia and Indonesia.
Charles Santiago, lawmaker from Malaysia and head of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, thus challenged ASEAN on the case of what the United Nations called the most persecuted people in the world.
“ASEAN shamelessly calls itself a people-centered bloc, and goes on to self-style the 10 nation-states as a caring and sharing group. But all we have now are thousands of people stranded at sea. Rohingya women, men, and children who are starving and diseased are at the mercy of the Malaysian, Thailand, and Indonesian navies,” he said in a press statement.
As Europe is trying to manage the migration of Syrians, Libyans, and other Africans fleeing wars and the ill effects of climate changes, ASEAN should also face up to the mass exodus of Rohingya and Bangladeshis escaping persecution and poverty, Santiago said.
“The world is now looking at Southeast Asia and demanding some form of accountability,” he said.
Santiago noted that ASEAN heads of states failed to iron out the thorny issue of the mass exodus of the Rohingya at the recently concluded ASEAN summit in Malaysia.
“They failed to discuss about this crucial issue as it would entail looking at Burma’s gross human rights violations against the Rohingya,” he said, stressing that ASEAN cannot sweep the issue under the rug or rationalize its inaction due to its non-interference policy.
While Thailand, which had been the traditional destination of Rohingya until the discovery of gravesites believed to be of Rohingya refugees, has indicated it will provide shelter to the fleeing refugees, both Malaysia and Indonesia have said they will send the boats back.
“This is simply inhumane and atrocious. NGOs monitoring the Rohingya boat people say close to 8,000 more are still drifting in sea. So instead of mouthing about a caring society, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand must send their navy to rescue the Rohingya and Bangladeshis who are at sea,” said Santiago, of the Democratic Action Party representing Klang.
“If the three countries fail to do so now, we will have a human catastrophe in our hands,” he warned.
The Rohingya, who are Muslims in the largely Buddhist Myanmar, have suffered decades of persecution. Living in Burma since the 14th century, they are not recognized by the government as citizens, and are thus stateless, that is without any rights as far as the government is concerned.
Special call to Malaysia
Santiago also challenged his government, which currently chairs ASEAN, to provide refuge to the Rohingya.
“As Chair of ASEAN, Malaysia must protect the Rohingya as opposed to sending them back to Burma to face persecution and death,” he said.
“I hope Malaysia will not secretly send the Rohingya in detention centers in Langkawi back to Burma’s killing fields,” he added.
Santiago said Malaysia should support the Rohingya as it had Palestinians and Syrians in conflict with their respective governments.“Malaysia’s foreign policy must be consistent. And as such, support for Palestine and Syria must also be extended to the Rohingya,” he said.
The Malaysian lawmaker also noted that Malaysia was instrumental in bringing Burma into the ASEAN.
Countering Malaysia’s description of Rohingya as “illegal immigrants,” Santiago said the Muslim Myanmarese “are refugees fleeing state-engineered violence. They are (rendered) stateless in their home country and victims of targeted killings.”