Out at sea: Several hundred Rohingya are discovered deserted in the Andaman Sea
Regardless of our nationality, we should never turn our backs on people in need.
Several hundred Rohingya migrants were discovered out at sea on Thursday by reporters from The New York Times. The migrants were fleeing ethnic persecution in Myanmar, a country that refuses to recognize its one million Rohingya population as citizens.
As the reporters approached the wooden fishing boat, people shouted out asking for help, food and water. Others were attempting to hide from the sun by squatting beneath plastic tarps.
The migrants had been on the boat for three months, they said, and their Captain and crew had deserted them just six days prior.
Like thousands of others, they found themselves in a devastating situation: they had fled their home country, only to be rejected by the neighboring countries who refused to take them in. On Wednesday the migrants were rejected by Malaysian authorities, and on Thursday, after the Times informed Thai authorities of the boat’s existence, they were provided food and water, then "assisted" in being pushed out further into the Andaman Sea. Like Malaysia and Indonesia, it doesn’t look like Thailand has any plans to accept the thousands of migrants out at sea.
“What we have now is a game of maritime Ping-Pong,” said Joe Lowry of the International Organization for Migration in Bangkok. “It’s maritime Ping-Pong with human life. What’s the endgame? I don’t want to be too overdramatic, but if these people aren’t treated and brought to shore soon, we are going to have a boat full of corpses.”
Over the past few years, tens of thousands of Rohingya have left Myanmar, mostly fleeing to Malaysia or Bangladesh. But the recent high numbers of Rohingya out at sea, alongside thousands of others fleeing poverty in Bangladesh, is unusual. One reason is that Thai authorities have recently begun to crackdown on human trafficking- now traffickers are afraid to set foot in Thailand.
According to Lowry, “Their business model has been interrupted by the operations in Thailand. They will be back eventually- smuggling in trafficking is very lucrative- but they are waiting for now.” This leaves a lot of migrants without even illegal help in getting to new homes.
The Times reports the migrants typically pay $1,800 each for passage to Malaysia, being promised to have a job once they arrive. However, traffickers often demand additional payments down the road, and many migrants never make it to their intended destination.
While the true responsibility of this crisis, and all like it, lies with the home governments who failed their people (regardless of whether or not they wanted to claim them), it’s disheartening to know that countries like Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia are comfortable turning their backs on people in need, simply because they need to “send the right message” as one Malaysian official put it.
But the blame doesn’t end there. Around the world, migrants fleeing poverty, political unrest, persecution, and natural disasters are turned away, simply because of the arbitrary lines that divide us. We’re all people first and foremost, and regardless of where we’re born, we should do everything we can to help those in need.