Theater of Cruelty

Asia's most vulnerable boat refugees

The stateless Rohingya live under inhumane conditions in the border areas, on refugee boats and as prisoners in slave camps. The authorities pretend that they do not exist. 


The images of boat refugees in the Andaman Sea make me think of the novel Uncle Tom's cabin, written in the 1800 century by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe. The book is based on stories from former slaves.
Although slavery has been banned in most countries and is also totally banned under international law, slavery still exists in a new form: human trafficking. In the past, slave owners used cane to make slaves work hard. Modern traffickers use guns to threaten people to work, sell people as property and use the mobile phone to demand ransom from family members in their home country.
In April last year, a burgeoning journalist from the AP News Agency found that over 1000 fishermen from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos had been captured and held as slaves on an island in Indonesia for nearly two years. : A mass grave was discovered in a human trafficking camp in southern Thailand, just off the border with Malaysia.
Then thousands of stateless Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladeshi economic migrants were found stranded at sea – stranded because none of the surrounding countries allowed them to land.
In the region, Myanmar has received the most pressure from the international community in connection with the "Rohingya refugee crisis". The Rohingya are a Muslim people living in the border areas between Myanmar and Bangladesh. They are referred to by Myanmar as "bangali", ie people originating in Bangladesh. But neither Myanmar nor Bangladesh recognize the people as inhabitants. This has made them stateless for decades, and they have gradually gained the attention of international media.
Although the Myanmarian government has never granted these people citizenship, they issued temporary residence permits – so-called white cards – ahead of the referendum in 2008 and the election in 2010, so that they were allowed to vote. According to official statistics, around 700 Rohingya received white cards – but the government demanded that the cards be returned in early 000.

Instead, they end up in an even worse hell: caught on a boat without food and drink.

Trafficking in human beings begins in the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox's Bazar and the state of Rakhine on the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar. PHOTO: BBC Graphic Map
Trafficking in human beings begins in the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox's Bazar and the state of Rakhine on the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar. PHOTO: BBC Graphic Map

The boat people's crisis. The Rohingya has been given a nickname by international media: the boat people. This is because of the many Rohingya who risk their lives to get out of the severe poverty in Myanmar or Bangladesh by going to neighboring countries in the Andaman Sea – via the sea, which for most is the only way there. Many try to follow relatives who have left home to work in Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia. Instead, they end up in a hell that is even worse than poverty in their homeland: caught on a boat without food and drink.
A new report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees shows that around 25 people, including women and children, fell victim to human trafficking between January and March 000. This was a doubling from the previous year.
Young men without jobs and education, defenseless children and young girls in refugee camps in the border areas between Myanmar and Bangladesh are easy victims of traffickers. The trafficking routes begin in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, where the Rohingya refugee camps are, as well as in the state of Rakhine in the Bangladesh-Myanmar border area. Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently interviewed seven people who were trafficked from a refugee camp in Rakhine. All were sold as slaves. Myanmar soldiers, policemen and traffickers threatened or tricked them into boarding the trafficking boat.
Six of these seven were girls between the ages of 13 and 18, and none of them went to school. The last was a 25 year old mother, Khalida. “I was fooled aboard the boat with the promise of a job. I didn't want to go to Malaysia, "Khalida told HRW. Eventually she was transferred from a “small boat to a larger boat, with Myanmar smugglers from Kawthaung [southern Myanmar]. The big boat transported us to a camp near Padang Besar [on the border between Thailand and Malaysia] ”, she continues.
Khalida was interned in the camp with 370 others, most of whom were Rohingya and about 50 were from Bangladesh. When she later escaped from the camp, she was arrested by Thai police.

Resident alien. The geography curriculum of students at the University of Yangon in Myanmar does not hide the existence of the Rohingya. The geography book published by the country's Ministry of Knowledge states: "In the Rakhine suburb near the border with Bangladesh, in the Butheetaung and Maundaw areas, lives crude oil og chittagarians. These ethnic minority groups have been living in the area since ancient times. ”But Myanmar's high-ranking politicians such as President Thein Sein, military general Min Aung Hlaing and interior minister Khin Yee still refuse to recognize the Rohingya as peoples, and they are not included in the country's 135 official ethnic groups.
However, there is both historical and most vivid evidence of the existence of the Rohingya in the country. In 1961, a popular Rohingya radio show was broadcast on air three times a week, and was widely appreciated by many as an ethnic language program. The Rohingya had former identity cards just like the Myanmar, and they had equal civil rights.
Since the first military coup led by General and dictator Ne Win in 1962, the Rohingya people have lived in constant fear. General Ne Win launched heavy military operations to drive the people to Bangladesh in 1978. Around 250 Rohingya then took refuge at the Bangladeshi border.
During the era of the Socialist Government came the 1982 Citizenship Act, which deprived the Rohingya of the right to citizenship. Since then, their innate rights such as freedom of movement, right to education, freedom to marry and labor rights have been severely restricted.
In 1991, the government carried out a military operation against the Rohingya, which led to 30 people fleeing to Cox's Bazar on the border with Bangladesh.
In the course of 30 years, there were once tens of thousands of stateless Rohingya, had a population explosion and became 1,3 million stateless – with no prospect of either a better future or fundamental rights.

Myanmar's living export goods. At the regional meeting in Bangkok on May 29 last year, whose purpose was to find a solution to the boat people crisis, the international community urged Myanmar to accept Rohingya as citizens. Nevertheless, the country's foreign ministry went out and told the neighboring governments that this is a regional problem – not a "burden Myanmar will bear alone".
Despite this, these meetings as well as international pressure created several positive results for the boat people. Other countries in the area agreed to offer help, refuge and food to those stranded at sea.
The Rohingya are not the only ethnic people exposed to human trafficking in the area. Several different ethnic groups from Myanmar have been abused as illegal migrant workers under slave-like conditions with neighboring countries for over 20 years. So far, the Myanmar navy has rescued a few boats in the country's maritime territory – boats full of trafficking victims from both Myanmar and Bangladesh. Of these, 300 people have been identified as "bangali" from Myanmar and have been sent home to Maundaw, Butheetaung, Sittwe, Myauk-U and other cities in the state of Rakhine. In addition, the Myanmar navy has arrested 20 traffickers in Sittwe district.
Regardless of whether the boat refugees are from Myanmar or Bangladesh, and whether they are stateless or not, no one can deny that these people are being subjected to inhumane treatment. Several Rohingya and Bangladeshi were killed or starved while in captivity waiting for ransom.
These are people who are deprived of all innate rights to identity, citizenship and religious freedom. Their unworthy death is a disgrace to all who deprive the boat people of the right to be human.

Mon Mon Myat is a New Age correspondent in Myanmar.

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