2015 Rohingya refugee crisis
The 2015 Rohingya refugee crisis refers to the mass migration of thousands of Rohingya people from Myanmar (also known as Burma) and Bangladesh in 2015, collectively dubbed 'boat people' by international media. Nearly all that fled traveled to Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand by rickety boats via the waters of the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 25,000 people have been taken to boats from January to March in 2015 by human traffickers. There are claims that around 100 people died in Indonesia, 200 in Malaysia, and 10 in Thailand while on their journey after the traffickers abandoned them at sea.
In October 2015, researchers from the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London released a report drawing on leaked government documents that reveals an increasing "ghettoisation, sporadic massacres, and restrictions on movement" on Rohingya peoples. The researchers suggest that the Myanmar government are in the final stages of an organised process of genocide against the Rohingya and have called upon the international community to redress the situation as such.
The Rohingya people are a Muslim minority group residing in the Rakhine state, formerly known as Arakan. The Rohingya people are considered “stateless entities”, as the Myanmar government has been refusing to recognise them as one of the ethnic groups of the country. For this reason, the Rohingya people lack legal protection from the Government of Myanmar, are regarded as mere refugees from Bangladesh, and face strong hostility in the country—often described as one of the most persecuted people on earth. To escape the dire situation in Myanmar, the Rohingya try to illegally enter Southeast Asian states, begging for humanitarian support from potential host countries.
On 1 May 2015, about 32 shallow graves were discovered on a remote and rugged mountain in Thailand, at a so-called "waiting area" for the illegal migrants before they were sneaked through the border into Malaysia. A Bangladeshi migrant was found alive in the grave and was later treated at a local hospital as told to Thai news agencies. On 22 May 2015, however, the Myanmar navy rescued 208 migrants at sea, and upon inspection, confirmed themselves as having come from Bangladesh. Protests by nationalists erupted in the capital, calling for the international community to stop blaming Myanmar for the Rohingya crisis.
On 24 May 2015, Malaysian police discovered 139 suspected graves in a series of abandoned camps used by human traffickers on the border with Thailand where Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma were believed to have been held.
Bangladesh is home to 32,000 registered Rohingya refugees who are sheltering in two camps in the south-eastern district of Cox’s Bazar. According to some statistics, more than 140,000 of the estimated 800,000 to 1,100,000 Rohingya have been forced to seek refuge in displacement camps after the 2012 Rakhine State riots. To escape the systemic violence and persecution in Myanmar, an estimated 100,000 people have since fled the camps. About 3,000 Rohingya refugees traveling to Southeast Asia from Myanmar and Bangladesh have been rescued or have swum to shore, while several thousand more are believed to remain trapped with little food or water on the boats floating at sea.
At first Malaysia refused to provide any kind of refuge to the people reaching its shore but agreed to "provide provisions and send them away". Later, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to provide temporary refuge to the Rohingya. Thailand said that it would provide humanitarian assistance and would not turn away boats that wish to enter its waters.
Australian foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop said that Indonesia believed only 30 to 40 percent of those at sea were Rohingya, with the remainder mostly being Bangladeshi "illegal labourers." The State Department of United States expressed its intent to take in Rohingya refugees as part of international efforts.
The Philippine government expressed their wish to provide shelter for up to 3,000 "boat people" from Myanmar and Bangladesh. As a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the country abides by the rules of international law and will provide assistance to refugees. Malacañang Palace also noted in a statement that this follows the country's harbouring and assistance to Vietnamese boat people fleeing from Vietnam in the late 1970s.
The government of The Gambia also expressed their concern and wished to take in stranded boat people saying, “it is a sacred duty to help alleviate the untold hardships and sufferings fellow human beings are confronted with.”
Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina called the boat people "mentally sick" and said that they could have better lives in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi Government later planned to relocate Rohingya refugees who have spent years in camps near the Myanmar border.
US president Barack Obama urged Myanmar to end discrimination against the Rohingya minority on 2 June 2015.
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“The Philippines has extended humanitarian assistance to ... ‘boat people’ and had even established a processing centre for Vietnamese travellers in the 70s”, said Herminio Coloma, a spokesman for the president, Benigno Aquino.
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- Myanmar Boat People Crisis Photos 2015
- What the Rohingya crisis says about racism and politics in Asia