(AA) – The unending plight of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslims continues, with time appearing to be running out for the thousands currently stranded in boats off Southeast Asian shores.
For Myanmar’s local and central governments, the Rohingya basically do not exist.
Denied citizenship in Myanmar, they are considered illegal settlers and advocacy groups say they are subject to violence at the hands of the military. The United Nations classifies Rohingya as the most persecuted refugee group in the world.
“The Rohingya regularly die from sicknesses that would not kill if they had access to health care, but the government prevents it,” Sarnata Reynolds, a senior adviser for human rights at U.S.-based aid advocacy group Refugees International, told Anadolu Agency .
“They are not allowed to work or move to get food, but the government won’t allow humanitarians to provide sufficient or regular assistance, so newborns and children die of malnutrition”.
The plight of Rohingya and Bangladeshi has recently made international headlines as boats packed with thousands of the migrants have attempted to reach Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian shores, while many more remain at sea in desperate conditions.
Some of the occupants have fled Myanmar’s western Rakhine state alleging brutality by the country’s military leaders, many have left refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox Bazar region, while others claim to have been forced onto the boats by people smugglers – ransoms then demanded from their families back home for their safe passage.
Some of these boats have been taken in, the emaciated passengers whisked to hospitals and holding centers, but of late the navies of these three countries have been turning the vessels back to sea, after providing them with food and water.
Despite Thailand and Malaysia pointing the finger at Myanmar, it denies responsibility, a senior Myanmar official lashing out at mounting international pressure for it to join talks on the crisis.
“As countries in ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] region, they [Malaysia and Thailand] need to deal with their own weaknesses and problems boldly. Their guilt won’t disappear if they just put the blame on Myanmar”, U Zaw Htay – a director at the Myanmar president’s office – wrote in a Facebook post.
He claimed the problem was down to human traffickers and corrupt officials.
Reynolds, however, says the blame lies squarely on Myanmar’s shoulders.
“The Rohingya will continue to flee, and this will help fulfill Myanmar’s objective to rid the country of them. Neighboring countries must accept that this is state-sponsored ethnic cleansing and help them while pressuring the government”, she said.
She stressed that Rohingya are not migrants, but refugees fleeing persecution by the Myanmar government.
With the situation showing no signs of improving, Malaysia launched talks Sunday night with its neighbors to address the crisis.
Thailand has also called for a May 29 regional summit aimed at alleviating the suffering.
But Myanmar has said it will not attend the meeting if “Rohingya” is mentioned on the invitation, as it refuses to identify Muslims who live in its Western Rakhine state as “Rohingya,” preferring to use the term “Bengali” which suggests they are migrants from Bangladesh.
Myanmar’s blanket refusal to engage is “inexcusable,” but it is also “entirely predictable”, said Reynolds.
“The more Rohingya who leave the country – whether they live or die – the closer the government gets to a Myanmar free of Rohingya”.
She said the atrocities carried out by Myanmar authorities are fueled by the international community’s failure to hold the government accountable.
“The UN is not doing enough. In attempting to remain in Myanmar to provide protection and assistance to millions of Myanmar’s citizens who are not Rohingya, the UN has permitted the further marginalization of the Rohingya”, she said.
“We are nearing a time when the UN must determine whether its presence is actually doing more harm than good in the long run”.
The International Organization for Migration estimates 8,000 migrants smuggled from either western Myanmar or Bangladesh are currently on boats in the Andaman Sea and Malacca Straits.
Nurul Islam, chairman of Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO), has told Anadolu Agency that the crisis can be settled only through concerted efforts by the international community.
“This is the time, because those people have no domestic remedies or national protection”, he said. ”The only solution, the only hope for these people is the international community”, he added.
Last week, ARNO appealed to UN member states to take action based on Article 98 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which obligates states to render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost.
Islam said diplomacy efforts involving Myanmar have been “exhausted” because the Buddhist majority state has always proved unwilling to “listen to any recommendation, any resolution, any envoy from the UN. ”
The international community must pressure, and they have to send a strong message to Myanmar”, he said.
After violent clashes with local Buddhists in the summer of 2012, tens of thousands of Rohingya joined an exodus from Myanmar’s Rakhine state toward Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia, sparking what has now been called the region’s largest exodus of boat people since the Vietnam War.
Anti-Muslim violence across Myanmar has killed hundreds since 2012 and blighted the country’s shift from military dictatorship to a more open and democratic society.
According to Nur Hisham, who leads the Canadian Burmese Rohingya Organization, the U.S., and international bodies such as the UN, EU and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, should be actively engaged in order to achieve a permanent solution to Rohingya suffering.
He said Myanmar would not be willing to co-operate with the international community “because the truth will be revealed of mistreatment, abuses and discrimination of Rohingya minority” when it does.