The Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation Malaysia (Merhrom) strongly condemns the plan of the Thai Government to deport 73 Rohingya boat people back to Myanmar.
The Thai government by now should be aware of the plight of Rohingyas in the Arakan state of Myanmar. The Thai government and other neighbouring countries by now should be aware of the reasons why the Rohingyas have become boat people for many years now. If there are any Rohingya boat people landing on our shores, they must be handed over to UNHCR so that it can assess their status and provide them with the necessary assistance.
We are very frustrated as the Thai government has failed to observe the principle of “nonrefoulement” – though we know Thailand is not a signatory to 1951 Refugee Convention.
This is not the first time the Thai government has badly treated the Rohingya boat people. In 2009, the international community was shocked to see how the Thai Navy pushed back hundreds of Rohingya boat people to the sea without food and water. The Rohingyas were also abused by the Thai Navy. The act of the Thai Navy caused many of them died at sea. The Thai government was not made accountable for the crime they committed towards the stateless Rohingya boat people.
The latest group of 73 consists of men, women and children. The initial plan of the Thai authorities to push the boat people back to the sea after providing food, water and fuel was seen as inhuman and selfish. They fail to understand our plight back home. They still want to send us back to the hands that destroy our lives. All the 73 Rohingya are currently waiting for deportation at Ranong province. We do not know how many boats have been push back to sea by the Thai government and their fate.
We also condemn the act of the Singapore government, which refused permission to the Rohingya boat people to enter Singapore after their boat sank near the Bay of Bengal. They had been in the water for 30 hours before the ship Nosco Victory rescued them on 5 December 2012. An estimated 160 other Rohingya on the boat are believed to have drowned.
Since October 2012, the media have reported a few incidents of boats of Rohingyas sinking, claiming hundreds of lives. We do not know how many more have died at sea. We will continue to see more and more Rohingyas in boats as they and their families flee from Arakan state, where the situation is worsening.
The international community and world leaders think that the situation in Arakan State is back to normal but the reality is, it is not. The Myanmar government is continually killing, raping, arresting, and detaining Rohingyas through its security forces. The security forces are continually killing Rohingya underground not only in open areas.
The Nasaka and Police force the Rohingyas to admit that they are Bengali not Rohingya. If they maintain that they are Rohingyas, they will be arrested and taken to the jail. In the jail they are beaten badly and some have died.
Many of the Rohingya men have been arrested and detained. The security forces demand lots of money for their release. Hundreds or thousands of Rohingyas are stranded in the jail as they do not have money.
The situation in the Rohingya camp is very bad as there is not enough food, water and medical supplies. Hundreds or thousands of Rohingya have died due to severe starvation.
A lot of the Rohingyas’ sources of food have been confiscated by the security forces. The military orders the Rohingyas to harvest the paddy. However all the paddy is confiscated by the military. There is no food left for the Rohingyas.
In November 2012, Merhrom received numerous calls from Buthidaung township reporting that the Rakhines and the security forces have poisoning the water sources in Rohingya villages. An estimated 50 ponds have been poisoned by the Rakhines and the security forces.
The Myanmar government uses many ways to eliminate Rohingyas from Arakan state. They will not stop until we are removed from Arakan state. The United Nations and world leaders must open their eyes to the plight of the Rohingya’s plight as thousands of innocent lives have been lost. The United Nations and world leaders must deal directly with the Myanmar government without further delay and take appropriate measures to address the plight of the Rohingya. A United Nations peace-keeping mission must be sent urgently to control and monitor the human rights violations.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called on regional countries to keep their borders open to people seeking asylum and international protection from Myanmar. We appeal to Asean countries to accept the Rohingya boat people and hand them over to the UNHCR to assess their status.
We are thankful to the more humanitarian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, which are willing to accept the Rohingya boat people and not push them back to sea. Though Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, it can open its heart to help the affected people in the region and in the international arena. If Malaysia can do so, why not Thailand, which is the host of many international agencies including the Asean Secretary General.
The Rohingya people is one of the ethnic groups in the Asean region though we are not recognised by the Myanmar government. Asean must be more responsive towards one of its own ethnic groups. Therefore Asean must take practical measures to protect its own people.
Everyone has the right to live in peace and dignity, free from fear and prejudice. We should not use religion to separate us. We, as human beings, must be able to live in peace though we have many differences.
God shall bless and protect those who defend the rights of their fellow humans.
Zafar Ahmad bin Abdul Ghani is president of the Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation Malaysia (Merhrom)