Fri 27 Feb 2009
Filed under: ASEAN,News
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations said on Friday it will send hundreds of Rohingya boat people back to military-ruled Myanmar, which rights groups fear gives them little in the way of protection.
Meeting at its annual summit, the 10-member bloc agreed to compile and pool information and interviews on the Rohingyas, who washed up on the shores of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia having fled oppression in Myanmar.
Those found to have originated from the former Burma, which denies the Rohingya Muslims are from its soil, would be returned, under the proposal agreed on Friday.
“They have been trying to flee Burma because of extreme persecution. They will be tragically hopeless if they are returned,” said Debbie Stothard of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma.
“They won’t be monitored or supervised to ensure they aren’t tortured, detained or simply put on another boat.
“This doesn’t tackle the root problem. This shows a fundamental lack of political will in ASEAN,” she said.
Rickety wooden boats crowded with hundreds of Rohingya, a Muslim minority from Myanmar’s northwest, have reached Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia in the last two months, the latest in annual migrations of people in search of better lives.
Their plight was brought to light last month when hundreds were feared drowned after they were towed out to sea by the Thai military and abandoned in engine-less boats.
Some Rohingya who arrived in Indonesia said they were beaten and tortured at the hands of the Thai army.
Thailand’s government has launched an investigation into the allegations and insist the Rohingya were treated humanely and were given ample supplies of food and water.
Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Rais Yatim said ASEAN would tackle the issue with urgency and called on Myanmar to give its full cooperation.
“We recognise that the Rohingyas are people that need attention from the salvaging efforts of ASEAN…,” Yatim told reporters.
“The fact that Myanmar has come forward is positive. Myanmar should play a positive role in endearing itself to our human rights demands.”
Chris Lewa of the Rohingya rights group The Arakan Project said the agreement showed ASEAN’s policy of non-intervention was more important to its members than human rights.
“This is simply a gesture to all the ASEAN countries and does not solve the problem,” Lewa told Reuters.
“ASEAN needs to put pressure on Myanmar to recognise the Rohingyas. It’s very clear these people do not want to go back.”