Myanmar's neighbours urged to let in refugees
Myanmar’s neighbours should prepare to accept refugees from the country’s Rohingya minority who may try to flee abroad to escape bloody communal violence, refugee organisations said on Thursday.
Violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state pitting Buddhists against members of the Muslim Rohingya minority has killed dozens since June and swamped refugee camps in the country, with tens of thousands fleeing the bloodshed.
Rohingya have for years trickled abroad to neighouring Bangladesh and, increasingly, to Muslim-majority Malaysia by boat. The violence has sparked warnings of a potential surge in refugees opting for the dangerous sea voyage.
Bangladeshi police say about 130 people are missing after a boat sank on Sunday while carrying Rohingya refugees heading for Malaysia.
“We are appealing to countries to keep borders open and to ensure safe access and whatever assistance they can provide,” said Vivian Tan, Asia-Pacific spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“The main thing is that they have a safe place to land,” she said.
Rohingyas, a Muslim minority who speak a Bengali dialect in mainly Buddhist Myanmar, claim decades of persecution.
The government views the roughly 800,000 Rohingya in Rakhine as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.
Decades-old animosity between Buddhists and Rohingya exploded in June after the apparent rape and murder of an ethnic Rakhine woman sparked a series of revenge attacks.
Human Rights Watch warned this week of a potential “dramatic increase in the number of Rohingya taking to the sea this year” in the wake of the unrest.
Aid and refugee agencies have said they were monitoring the situation and no large-scale exodus had yet been detected, but they urged nearby countries to prepare.
The UNHCR in Malaysia has registered some 24,000 Rohingyas as refugees but community leaders estimate actual numbers in the country could be double that.
Malaysia largely turns a blind eye, allowing them into the country but denying them any sort of legal status that would allow access to health care, education and other services, activists say.
Malaysia must prepare for more arrivals and provide access to such services, said Sharuna Verghis, co-founder of Malaysian refugee help organisation Health Equity Initiative.
“It is a humanitarian crisis. That’s why a regional solution is needed, and part of the solution must be that everyone does their bit,” she said.
“Countries need to show their generosity and compassion at this time of crisis.”