Burma Must Recognise Rohingya or Face Asean Disgrace

Burma Must Recognise Rohingya or Face Asean Disgrace, By Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian Thursday, January 10, 2013

Former Asean Secretary General Dr Surin Pitsuwan on Phuket last year
Photo by phuketwan.com
PHUKET: Indonesia is interceding in Burma as the Asean partners desperately try to stem international damage from years of Asean subterfuge and inaction on the Rohingya issue.
Dr Surin Pitsuwan, who has just retired after five years as Secretary General of the 10-nation group, told Phuketwan today that human rights in Burma was an issue that had to be addressed.

Since the pushbacks from Thailand were exposed in 2009, the word ”Rohingya” has reverberated around the region.

The covert pushbacks were Thailand’s way of dealing with an issue that Burma and its neighbors wanted to hide from the word.

In 2013, with satellite images being used by activist group Human Rights Watch as evidence of the torching of thousands of Rohingya homes in Burma’s Rakhine state, secrets are more difficult to keep.

Thousands more Rohingya are opting to make the perilous voyage south rather than ”die in a camp for displaced people,” as one boatperson put it.

Now that their homes have been burned, the women and children are fleeing Burma with their menfolk in a crisis generated by decades of resentment that has openly festered lately into bitter hatred.

The pushbacks were adopted by Thailand as an answer after the 2007-2008 ”sailing season” saw nearly 5000 Rohingya land in Thailand.

Halfway through the 2012-2013 ”sailing season,” more than 10,000 Rohingya have voyaged past Thailand and thousands more are planning to flee the same way.

Since Phuketwan revealed on January 1 that women and children are now fleeing in the boats, a policy swing appears to be underway in Thailand.

The prospect of women and children being at sea for weeks in open boats alarmed the Thai Navy personnel and local police who intercepted the boatload of families off Phuket.

It can be no coincidence that last night’s raid took place on an illicit Thai-Malaysia border camp for the first time, clearly revealing that children and women are now falling into the hands of the people traffickers.

We sincerely hope that for Asean and the people smugglers, the days of secrecy and profit are at an end.

With the illegal trade now on overload, alternatives have to be found, and urgently. There is no doubt that the only permanent solution has to come from inside Burma.

Dr Surin acknowledged this today when he said that he believed steps had to be taken swiftly to recognise Rohingya families who had been living in Burma for generations.

Being a just-retired diplomat, he said that the process of recognition required time.

But with more women and children taking to the Rohingya boats each day, time is running short. Burma must act.

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