Migrant Rohingya are literally stuck at sea, but the persecuted ethnic group needs justice as well as humanitarian assistance.
After fleeing from Myanmar last month, potentially thousands of Rohingya were turned away from several states, including Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. The International Organization for Migration calls it “maritime ping-pong.” Though several states have finally offered assistance in the form of provisions or temporary shelter, those stuck on the overcrowded ships need more to be done.
Sadly, this example of Rohingya “push-back policy” is not the first of its kind, nor is it unusual. Since early May, at least 4,600 Rohingya sought refuge in neighboring Southeast Asian countries. In late 2008 and early 2009 similar events occurred, and since 2012 around 100,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar.
Some of the Rohingya migrants say that they were actually forced to leave Rakhine State, and those who make it out often fall prey to traffickers and are subject to regular abuse.
Who are the Rohingya?
Over one million people in Myanmar identify as Rohingya, a chiefly Muslim group living predominately in the Rakhine State on the country’s western coast.
Myanmar contends that the Rohingya are migrants from Bangladesh, and by law denies them citizenship. But Bangladesh does not acknowledge the Rohingya as Bengali, leaving them effectively stateless.
Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch Asia director:
“Burma’s discriminatory citizenship law not only deprives Rohingya of citizenship, but for decades has encouraged systematic rights violations.”
Crimes against humanity?
Some contend that protracted human rights violations against the Rohingya, including sporadic violence between them and ethnic Buddhists, could amount to crimes against humanity under the ICC Rome State because they are the result of state policy.
But can the ICC provide them with justice?
Since Myanmar has not joined the ICC or accepted its jurisdiction, the situation in Myanmar would need to be referred to the Court by the UN Security Council. So far, there has been little movement in that direction from the Council, but the media attention given to the thousands of Rohingya stuck at sea could provide some momentum.
While regional governments are meeting to find a solution for the stranded migrants, the root causes of the problem also need to be addressed.
Evelyn Balais-Serrano, executive director of FORUM-Asia:
“No one would deny how important it is that the 7,000 that are currently at sea in boats are being helped, and will receive the shelter and aid they desperately need. But if there is no long-term solution found for them and their future fellows, it will be like a band-aid that is shortly protecting the wound, but not curing it.”
Accountability for alleged crimes committed against the Rohingya should be a part of any long-term solution.