Friday, February 6, 2009

Rights & Wrongs: Burma's Rohingya, Human Trafficking, and More

Juliette Terzieff
World Politics Review

ROHINGYA FIND MORE CRUELTY AFTER FLIGHT FROM BURMA -- Thailand's indifferent and criminal response to the plight of hundreds of Rohingya refugees has stunned the human rights community and highlights the world's continued failure to effectively protect the rights of refugee and asylum seekers.

In the course of the last month, three boatloads of Rohingya males have washed ashore in Indonesia and India telling similar tales of beatings and abandonment by Thai authorities. Thailand has admitted rounding up the men and dragging them out to sea, but says its army did not torture them, and supplied food and water.

Over 1,000 men and boys are believed to have gone through this harrowing process, with nearly half of them still missing and presumed to be dead at sea.

"It starts in Burma, but it spreads pretty much across the board. [The Rohingyas'] position is tenuous throughout the region. It's becoming a regional problem, and there are no easy answers," Joel Charney of Refugees International told the Toronto Star.

Rights groups are calling on the region's governments to help the Rohingya, who Refugees International calls Burma's "subjugated" people, and allow United Nations aid agencies access to the men.

"The Rohingya's situation has reached a critical stage over the last two months. The Thai government must stop forcibly expelling Rohingyas and provide them with immediate humanitarian assistance and cease any plans to proceed with more expulsions," Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director said in a statement.

The Rohingya, who are Muslim and number around 2 million, say they are fleeing the continuous abuse and discrimination heaped on them by Burma's ruling military junta. The Burmese junta refuses to recognize them as an official minority, denies them citizenship, requires them to ask official permission to marry, forces them to pay heavy taxes in the event of a death or birth and restricts their movement inside Burma at all times, according to rights defenders.

Over the last two decades, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Burma, seeking shelter in countries across the region, including Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh (home to the largest Rohingya refugee population). Thailand and Indonesia have both said they do not consider the Rohingya to be refugees but economic migrants to be deported as soon as possible. Bangladesh has accepted more than 200,000 Rohingya as refugees in the last two decades, but forces them to live in camps cut off from the general population and with little hope for a normal life.

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