WASHINGTON (AP) â€” The United States is coming under pressure from human rights groups & some in Congress to assist Rohingya & Bangladeshi migrants stranded at sea as Southeast Asian nations refuse to let them come to shore.
Washington is stepping up its calls for governments to work together to save migrants stranded off the coasts of Indonesia, Malaysia & Thailand, saying that lives are in danger. But it appears reluctant to provide direct U.S. assist in search & rescue.
"This is a regional issue. It needs a regional solution in short order," State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters Thursday.
p>In the last three years, more than 120,000 minority Rohingya Muslims have fled oppression in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, paying huge sums to human smugglers. But faced with a recent regional crackdown, the smugglers have abandoned the ships, leaving an estimated 6,000 refugees to fend for themselves, according to reliable aid workers & human rights groups.
"These men, women, children & infants are refugees fleeing well-founded fear of persecution & their deaths may well constitute a mass atrocity in the heart of ASEAN," said Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley, referring to Southeast Asia's regional bloc.
He called on the U.S. to implore its allies in the region to accept the refugees, & for the U.S. to consider providing humanitarian assistance, including the use of reconnaissance imagery & the deployment of naval & air assets if necessary, to rescue those in danger.
The U.S. frequently holds military drills on humanitarian assistance & disaster response in Southeast Asia, yet Washington could be reluctant to obtain directly involved in this unfolding crisis because it lacks an answer to the underlying problem: Where will the migrants go?
Although 1,600 have landed in Malaysia & Indonesia in the past week, no country appears willing to take any more, fearing it could result in an unstoppable flow. Malaysia on Thursday turned away two crammed migrant boats & Thailand kept at bay a large vessel with hundreds of hungry people.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said the U.S. could galvanize action by regional governments by calling a meeting itself, & should not wait for a Thailand-hosted gathering on the issue scheduled for May 29, as people are already dying at sea.
Rathke said the U.S. is urging countries of the region "to work together "save lives at sea" & is coordinating with international organizations. U.S. ambassadors are raising the issue with Malaysia, Indonesia & Thailand. He added that Myanmar, moreover known as Burma, needs urgently to improve the humanitarian situation in Rakhine State, from where the Rohingya have fled in their droves.
The displacement of stateless Rohingya has been a black mark on Myanmar's transition from decades of military rule, a shift often touted as a U.S. foreign policy success. Myanmar regards the Rohingya as illegal migrants from Bangladesh although many have lived in the country for generations.
Tom Andrews, president of the U.S.-based group, United to End Genocide, said the U.S. has a moral responsibility to help. He described the root cause of the migration was a "march to genocide" against the Rohingya, a minority that has faced sectarian attacks & deepening discrimination.
But he moreover faulted Indonesia & Malaysia for failing to rescue migrants & even towing boats back out to sea, saying: "This is a death sentence for perhaps several thousand people."
Source: “Associated Press”