28 April 2020
Frankfurt, Germany and Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh: The Free Rohingya Coalition, a global network of Rohingya survivors and international activists working to end Myanmar’s on-going genocide, are deeply troubled by the news reports about a number of Asian states, pushing starving Rohingyas on boats back out to the dangerous waters. Specifically, Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh are reportedly refusing to allow boat-loads of Rohingya refugees from disembarking on their shores.
These acts of pushing hundreds of starving and persecuted Rohingyas back out to the sea in the full knowledge that they have no safe place of refuge elsewhere, are violations of their human rights at the most fundamental level. These inhumane acts put the lives of those on the boats at immediate risk as they do not have adequate supplies of drinking water, food or fuel. States are obliged to provide those on board the ships with a place of safety and access to humanitarian support as victims of state persecution and genocide, and as potential victims of trafficking.
These latest push-backs have occurred just weeks ahead of Myanmar’s first reporting deadline to the International Court of Justice which has ordered provisional measures to protect the half-million Rohingyas who remain on Myanmar soil and prevent genocidal acts against them, including the incitement of genocidal violence.
Just one week ago on 21 April, the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the world’s largest and most important professional society specializing in genocides, voted 97% in favour of declaring that Myanmar’s policies and practices against the Rohingyas amount to genocide. The resolution:
“calls on the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to the refugees located in Bangladesh, including but not limited to proper shelter, clean water, food, medicine and vaccines, and psychological support; calls upon the International Criminal Court to provide effective and rapid justice to the victims, clarification of the facts, and punishment of the perpetrators; calls upon the International Court of Justice to issue a finding in favour of Gambia’s allegations against Myanmar of violations of the UN Genocide Convention; and calls upon the international community to impose/extend the arms embargo and to freeze the assets of those who are responsible.”
Khin Maung, the Free Rohingya Coalition’s coordinator in the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh and founder of the Rohingya Youth Association said,
“we Rohingyas have been fleeing death and destruction at the hands of Myanmar government and local communities in our birthplace of Western Myanmar since long before I was born in the 1990’s. Our people have resorted to paying brokers to take us somewhere safer, risking death or starvation at sea. We are not in Bangladesh or going to Malaysia because we think these are places of milk and honey. We take these high-risk journeys because we are desperate to escape subhuman conditions, and because in Rakhine we can no longer live with the constant threat of another wave of genocidal slaughter or being killed in the fierce fighting between Myanmar troops and the Rakhine rebels.”
The Germany-based Rohingya coordinator of the coalition Nay San Lwin added:
“instead of showing governmental resolve or a collective sense of urgency or state responsibility to end the root cause of genocide and war in Rakhine, these ASEAN and South Asian governments have issued empty declarations laced with euphemistic spin such as “irregular maritime movements” and “voluntary, sustainable, and dignified return.” There is absolutely nothing dignified about hundreds of Rohingyas being pushed back out to the sea where they are adrift, desperate for drinking water and starving for weeks, back into the high seas. In fact, it is inhumane.”
Alongside these push-backs, which have already caused the deaths of dozens onboard, Rohingya refugees have been subjected to an onslaught of racist attacks in social media, believed to be coming from Malaysian citizens of various religious and racial backgrounds. The volume and targeted nature of these attacks strongly suggests that this is a coordinated nationalist campaign.
The Free Rohingya Coalition reminds all governments in the region that they have a responsibility to prevent hate speech and prosecute their nationals who incite racism. This is particularly important in a situation where the victims of such attacks are a group that are already the victims of persecution and genocide in the neighbouring ASEAN state of Myanmar.
An ill-informed view in that is held by some elements of Malaysian society, is typified in this response last week from a high-level Chinese Malaysian (whose name we have withheld) to a request for Malaysia to provide basic assistance to Rohingya on the boats:
“In Myanmar, they are a hotbed of Muslim terrorists. Sorry, they can solve this problem themselves but chose to be boat people.”
The Free Rohingya Coalition sincerely thanks political leaders, including Anwar Ibrahim and others from across the political divides, for speaking out in support of Rohingya at this difficult time. We further appeal to the governments of Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Thailand to restore humanitarian concerns and place the fellowship of humans at the heart of their policies and responses to the continuing Rohingya refugee crisis.
We unequivocally condemn Aung San Suu Kyi’s Myanmar government for not creating the conditions conducive to the safe return of nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and 200,000 in Malaysia. Myanmar is the sole root cause of the ongoing exodus.
Nonetheless, we implore governments and individuals in the countries where Rohingya seek refuge to act. Even while government leaders secure their borders from the thread of Covid-19, they must not lose sight of basic humanity, their own and refugees’.
Nay San Lwin, Media Relations Coordinator and Co-founder
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