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Myanmar must be pressured over Rohingya: rights group

By Joshua Carroll
May 28, 2015

Human Rights Watch says success of Friday’s regional meeting on migrants depends on governments no longer sweeping crisis under the rug

YANGON, Myanmar -- Governments meeting to discuss the migrant boat crisis in Southeast Asia’s seas should “exert pressure” on Myanmar as the “main source of the problem," Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Thursday.

Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution and violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state make up the majority of the thousands left stranded at sea in recent weeks, but the government has denied responsibility.

HRW also urged governments, who are due to meet in Bangkok on Friday for a regional summit, to pressure Bangladesh to stop its policy of pushing back migrant boats and to “end its persecution of Rohingya.”

Seventeen countries, including Myanmar (also known as Burma), Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Australia and the Philippines will attend the summit.

“Regional governments should work with the United Nations and others to agree on binding solutions to this human tragedy – not sweep it under the rug as they have done for years,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director.

“The ending of human rights abuses in the source countries of Burma and Bangladesh needs to be matched by Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, with support from other countries, taking humanitarian action to receive and protect refugees fleeing persecution.”

The crisis began to receive international attention when a crackdown on people smuggling camps by Thai authorities scared traffickers into abandoning boats. Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia then began turning away boats, leaving thousands in perilous conditions.

On Wednesday, Buddhist nationalists took to the streets of Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, to protest against international pressure on Myanmar to resolve the crisis. They chanted “Stop blaming Myanmar” and carried placards denouncing the United Nations.

Myanmar’s government, along with many others in the country, do not acknowledge the Rohingya as an ethnicity, and say the group are interlopers from Bangladesh.

Many Rohingya live under apartheid-like conditions and are denied basic rights, including freedom of movement and access to education.

HRW on Thursday also urged governments to emphasize the “urgent need” for search and rescue efforts, and to “ensure unimpeded and unconditional access” for the UN’s refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration.

“This regional meeting will only be a success if every government commits to effective search and rescue operations, meeting the protection needs of refugees, prosecuting traffickers, and resolving the root causes that drive these desperate people onto boats,” Adams said.

“International burden sharing, including resettling refugees, is also important, but will only be a lasting solution if all governments agree that human rights must be at the center of all current and future policies.”

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