More than 120,000 Muslim Rohingya have been boarding ships and paying smugglers to help them flee persecution to other countries. Malaysia turned away two boats carrying more than 800 Muslim Rohingya migrants last Wednesday who are fleeing the intense persecution against their community in the Buddhist-majority Myanmar. In recent days, Thailand and Indonesia have also turned away two other boats carrying hundreds more, leaving them stranded in sea.
“What do you expect us to do?” Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Jafaar told the Associated Press. “We have been very nice to the people who broke into our border. We have treated them humanely but they cannot be flooding our shores like this.” Malaysia, who is not a signatory of international conventions on refugees, is a host to more than 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers, more than 40,000 of them are Rohingya according to the United Nations. Most of those immigrants do not have any civil status and therefore work opportunities are limited.
The three southeast Asian countries, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, have long turned a blind eye to the suffering of the 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, in order not to anger the country’s government. They have for years bowed to the wishes of Burma at regional conferences, avoiding all discussions of state-sponsored discrimination against the Rohingya.
However, the crisis in the Myanmar, which some argue neighboring countries helped create by their lack of action, now appears to haunt the southeast Asian countries, as more than 120,000 Muslim Rohingya have been boarding ships and paying smugglers to help them flee to other countries In recent days, fearing arrests, the smugglers and captains have been abandoning the ships, leaving the refugees to make do for themselves with little food and water supplies. Calls by the U.N refugee agency and other aid groups to help the refugees have fallen on deaf ears. An estimated 6,000 migrants remain stranded at sea.