Southeast Asian nations meeting at a summit called by Thailand yesterday to address the ongoing saga of Myanmar's Rohingya refugees and other migrants, failed to find a solution to the humanitarian crisis. The fact that nations affected by the prolonged migration debacle failed to reach a solution to the crisis, should come as no surprise; since as a group, the region has failed to criticize the human rights practices of each other, hence facilitating the circumstances giving rise to the present humanitarian crisis and maybe others to come.
Since 2012, according to human rights groups, 160,000 Rohingya people have fled Myanmar because of persecution as that nation has failed to recognize the legitimacy of the Muslim minority sect, who trace their origins in Myanmar to the eighth century. The mainly Buddhist-majority Myanmar, has denied the Rohingya people citizenship, thus rending the 1.3 million Muslims stateless. Discriminated against, attacked in their homes and made to live under apartheid-like conditions in camps, many Rohingya have become a large source of income for human traffickers as they undertake perilous journeys to find comfort across the seas.
Recently, some 3,000 Rohingya came ashore in Indonesia and Malaysia, while hundreds were turned away by Thailand, which pointed the refugees in the direction of Malaysia. Many Rohingya have died in the custody of traffickers in both Thailand and Malaysia and an undetermined number of migrants remain adrift somewhere on the seas of the Indian Ocean.
After refusing entry to the Rohingya, Indonesia and Malaysia, have since bowed to international humanitarian pressure, and will grant temporary shelter to the Rohingya for one year, but not to all - only to those already on the seas or already in the two countries. Thailand has not agreed to house any of the Rohingya. And it was against this background that a summit was held on the humanitarian crisis yesterday.
But no solution was found, just an agreement to continue talking at a later meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN), for which no date has been set.
However, yesterday's Thai meeting was not a total bust as the United States(US) and Australia pledged millions of dollars to help the refugees and migrants. The US offered $3 million toward an International Organization on Migration(IOM) effort to raise $26 million for temporary shelter, food and urgent care for refugees and migrants, the Associated Press(AP) reported. Australia said it would contribute $4.6 million for humanitarian assistance in Myanmar's Rakhine state - the home and the source of many Rohingya people. And Thailand finally gave approval for US military aircraft to use its air space to locate refugees at sea.
Factually, there could be no solution to the humanitarian crisis of Southeast Asia until the root causes are addressed. And reiterating this fact at yesterday's Thai summit was Volker Turk, the United Nations(UN) assistant high commissioner for refugees.
On solving the humanitarian crisis, the AP cited High Commissioner Turk as determining: "This will require full assumption of responsibility by Myanmar toward all its people. Granting citizenship is the ultimate goal...In the interim...recognizing that Myanmar is their own country is urgently required (as well as) access to identity documents and the removal of restrictions on basic freedom."
In underscoring Myanmar's denial of responsibility for the Rohingya crisis, its representative at the summit, Htin Linn, offered no solutions, but a lame observation that finger pointing would not solve the matter. Yet, the plight of the Rohingya people continues within Myanmar and upon the Indian Ocean.