Trafficking of Rohingyas continues over land: Activist
|Rohingya Muslims living in camps in Rakhine, near the Bay of Bengal where people smugglers are known to operate. (Photo: Jack Board)|
By Melissa GohChannel NewsAsia
November 20, 2015
Although multi-national crackdowns on human trafficking have shrunk the number of migrants in the Andaman Sea, people smugglers still continue their businesses on land.
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is home to more than 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR. More than 90 per cent of them come from Myanmar, of which ethnic Rohingya Muslims account for more than 50,000.
Among them is Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani from Myanmar's Rakhine state, who arrived in Malaysia in the 1990s and has never left. He now leads a non-government organisation advocating for the rights of the Rohingya Muslims.
A number of them continue to arrive in Malaysia, the 45-year-old said. Although no smugglers' boats have been sighted in the Andaman Sea during the past few months, Rohingya Muslims are being smuggled from detention centres in neighbouring Indonesia by local traffickers, he said.
"It's still ongoing. Malaysia has freedom. Refugees can survive. But those living in Indonesia's Aceh, they live in refugee camps and cannot go out; no freedom," Zafar said.
About 90 Rohingyas were arrested by Malaysia's maritime enforcement agency in recent days for trying to slip into the country, he claimed.
Following the incident, UNHCR representative to Malaysia Michael Towle called on the Malaysian government to do more to protect refugees, while curbing the scourge of human trafficking.
"We have no doubt that smugglers and traffickers are plotting and planning other entry points into the region for new trade," he said. "It's important for governments to have a system in place."
"There is a lot more still that needs to be done," he added, suggesting the government should put in place mechanisms for rescue at sea and disembarkation. "It needs to be dealt with with close cooperation. No state can do it on their own."
Like Malaysia, several countries in Southeast Asia faced a migrant crisis in May, when thousands of migrants landed on their shores.
Many were left floating in the Andaman Sea by human traffickers who had been paid to smuggle them into Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. However, a crackdown on the illegal trade in Thailand made it too risky for the smugglers to dock their boatloads of human cargo.
In August, Malaysia and Indonesia announced they would stop turning away boat people.
"We also agreed to offer them temporary shelter provided that the resettlement and repatriation process will be done in one year by the international community," Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said after holding talks with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi and Thailand's Tanasak Patimapragorn.
However, Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations' Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which means refugees or asylum seekers are not allowed to work in the country. Their children are not entitled to national schools or healthcare.
With the 27th ASEAN Summit currently taking place in Kuala Lumpur, Zafar said he hopes the plight of refugees would be better addressed by political leaders attending the event.
"I hope ASEAN leaders together discuss our Rohingya issue and solve them quickly," he said.
US President Barack Obama, who is participating in the summit, is scheduled to visit one of the refugee centres during his 3-day trip to Malaysia. For thousands of refugees in the country, his visit will serve as an opportunity to highlight their plight, as they fight for a better future.