The Latest on Rohingya: US Lawmakers Urge More US Action
By Associated Press
May 21, 2015
A bipartisan group of 23 U.S. lawmakers is urging the Obama administration to prevent Southeast Asian seas from becoming a "graveyard" for thousands of Rohingya boat people.
The lawmakers made the appeal in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry late Wednesday, ahead of discussions on the crisis between Myanmar's government and the No. 2 ranking U.S. diplomat, Anthony Blinken, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar's capital.
The members of the House of Representatives said the United States should provide support in search and rescue and humanitarian assistance for migrants in imminent danger in the Andaman Sea after fleeing "systematic repression" in Myanmar.
The U.S. should also work with Southeast Asian nations and address the "root cause" of the crisis, it says. The letter is strongly critical of President Thein Sein's government for pursuing "hate-filled" legislation against minorities in Myanmar. It recommends targeted U.S. sanctions against those who incite violence against the Rohingya if the situation continues to deteriorate.
The top-ranking Republican and Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are among the signatories of the letter, which was provided Thursday to The Associated Press. Lawmakers provide oversight, but don't set U.S. foreign policy.
— Matthew Pennington, Washington
7 p.m. (1200 GMT)
A top U.S. diplomat has urged Myanmar's government to work with its regional partners to address the migrant crisis in Southeast Asia.
Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with Myanmar officials in the capital, Naypyitaw, on Thursday.
More than 3,000 people have landed in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand in recent weeks, most of them members of the Rohingya minority who were fleeing Myanmar or were tricked by traffickers and then abandoned at sea.
The embassy in Yangon posted on Facebook that Blinken shared the U.S. government's concerns about the migrant crisis. State Department officials in Washington said earlier that the U.S. was willing to lead multicountry efforts organized by the U.N. refugee agency to resettle the most vulnerable migrants.
Blinken said earlier on his trip to Southeast Asia that the only sustainable solution to the problem was addressing the conditions that led the Rohingya to flee.
4 p.m. (0930 GMT)
The Myanmar government says it will attend a regional meeting on the Rohingya humanitarian crisis next week.
Earlier, Myanmar hinted it might skip the May 29 meeting in Bangkok in neighboring Thailand , which will bring together more than a dozen governments from Southeast Asia and beyond. They want to discuss the root causes of the exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar as well as Bangladeshi migrants, thousands of whom have been stranded at sea.
More than 3,000 boat people have landed in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand in recent weeks, and thousands more are believed to be adrift and their lives in danger.
Myanmar's presidential office director, Zaw Htay, said Thursday that his government will take part in talks about human smuggling and illegal migration.
For decades, the Rohingya have suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination in majority-Buddhist Myanmar. Denied citizenship by national law, they are effectively stateless. In the last three years, attacks on Rohingya have left hundreds dead.
— Robin McDowell, Yangon, Myanmar
2:35 p.m. (0805 GMT)
A senior U.S. diplomat has met with Myanmar's president to discuss the urgency of the Rohingya humanitarian crisis.
The U.S. Embassy in Myanmar says Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken held talks with President Thein Sein on Thursday.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said earlier that Blinken would urge Myanmar to cooperate with Bangladesh to help migrants who are adrift and call on Myanmar to improve conditions inside the country for Rohingya minority Muslims.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman is also in Myanmar to discuss the migrants, a day after Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to offer temporary shelter to thousands of Rohingya who have landed on their shores and thousands more believed to be stranded in the Andaman Sea.
It's a one-year temporary refuge. Indonesia says Bangladeshis, who are believed to be economic migrants mixed with the Rohingya on refugee boats, will be repatriated.
Myanmar has been under international pressure to stop the persecution of Rohingya. They are denied citizenship in the predominantly-Buddhist nation and face restrictions that force many to fall prey to human traffickers as they attempt to flee abroad, mostly to Malaysia and Indonesia.
noon (0500 GMT)
A spokesman for the International Organization for Migration says more than 400 Rohingya and Bangladeshis who were brought to shore in the Indonesian province of Aceh are in "very, very bad shape."
Joe Lowry says the migrants who spent months at sea are in worse state than we would have expected. He says no one is being rushed to the hospital and no one has died, but the people are very sick, dehydrated, malnourished and traumatized.
He says they landed Wednesday in a remote area of Aceh province and spent the night in tents.
They are getting treatment, including IV drips to get rehydrated, plus vitamins and food.
Lowry welcomed a decision by the United States to take in some of the migrants.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said earlier that the U.S. has resettled more 1,000 Rohingya since last October and is prepared to take a leading role in any multinational efforts to resettle the most vulnerable refugees.
— Kiko Rosario, Bangkok
2:20 p.m. (0420 GMT)
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has ruled out Australia resettling any Rohingya refugees, warning that asylum seekers who take to boats must not be rewarded with a new life in a Western country.
"Nope, nope, nope," Abbott told reporters Thursday when asked if Australia would resettle any of the thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar and Bangladeshis landing on shores of Southeast Asian countries.
"We are not going to do anything that will encourage people to get on boats. If we do the slightest thing to encourage people to get on the boats, this problem will get worse, not better," he added.
Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention and is one of the world's most generous countries on a per capita basis in taking in refugees, resettling 13,750 a year. But it refuses to accept asylum seekers who attempt to reach its shores by boat.
"Our role is to do everything we humanly can to stop people smuggling and the best way to do that is to make it absolutely crystal clear that if you get on a leaky boat, you aren't going to get what you want, which is a new life in a Western country," Abbott said.
— Rod McGuirk, Canberra, Australia
10:30 a.m. (0330 GMT)
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak says he has ordered the navy and the coast guard to conduct search and rescue operations for boats carrying Rohingya migrants stranded at sea.
"We have to prevent loss of life," Najib said in a tweet.
Malaysia and Indonesia agreed on Wednesday to provide temporary refuge to thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar, while Thailand said it will provide humanitarian assistance and won't turn away boats who wish to enter its waters.