Lately the news has been full of stories about the Rohingyas, an ethnic minority in Myanmar (Burma) that lives along the Bangladesh border. For years they have suffered discrimination and persecution under Myanmar’s military government, and hundreds of thousands have fled to Bangladesh.
In Myanmar, the Rohingyas “face religious persecution because they are Muslims in a Buddhist-majority country. Human Rights Watch said in its latest annual report they faced forced relocation, land seizures, and denial of citizenship and identity papers, among other things.” (source)
Over 200,000 have fled to Bangladesh and live in the area around Cox’s Bazar, in the southeast region of Bangladesh along the Myanmar (Burma) border. 28,000 Rohingyas live in refugee camps and receive UN assistance, but the rest live outside the camps and are classified as illegal immigrants. They cannot legally work in Bangladesh.
Out of desperation, many thousands try to go further, risking their lives in rickety wooden trawlers to try to reach Malaysia where they believe that a better life awaits them. This article has general background information on the situation of the Rohingyas and their attempts at migration.
Many of the Rohingyas end up not in Malaysia but in Thailand, either as a stop-over, because they get lost, or because it’s good enough. Last month allegations surfaced that the Thai military was towing the refugees back out to sea, abandoning them in international waters in boats without working engines. CNN broke the story and published photos of the boats being dragged back out to sea.
Thailand contends that it provided the refugees with food and water, but that it has been inundated with 20,000 illegal migrants and it does not want to encourage more arrivals by accepting them. Thailand says that the boat people are illegal economic migrants, not refugees, so it can repatriate them, which it does by returning their boats to the ocean.
“Myanmar said the Rohingya boat people found adrift in the Andaman Sea last week could not have come from its shores because they are not among its recognized ethnic groups, state media reported Friday.”
Myanmar’s non-recognition and discrimination against the Rohingya is, of course, why the Rohingya fled Myanmar in the first place.
For more info, click on the links above. Then be thankful for something as basic as your citizenship and the right to live and work freely in your own country.
Update: More boats were found adrift off the coast of Indonesia on February 2, and the survivors said they had been forced back to sea by the Thai military. See the new article here.