Wednesday, 4 February 2009

The Boat People

Rohingyas rescued by Indonesian authorities

Yesterday, some 200 Rohingya refugees, a minority Muslim group from Myanmar were rescued from the sea by the Indonesian authorities. On January 7, 174 of them were found and rescued by the Indonesian marine police. It is believed that this group was among the 1000 Rohingya refugees forced out to sea by the Thai military. The Thai government has lately received a lot of flak for their alleged inhumane treatment of the Rohingyas

Malaysia too was condemned by the Human Rights group for abusing them during detention in 'immigration depots'. Rohingyas are often deported to Thailand from where they would slip back to Malaysia after paying a bribe at the border. There are about 13,000 Rohingyas residing in various parts of Malaysia. Malaysia's record on the treatment of refugees and illegal immigrants has been highlighted by Irene Fernandez' memorandum on the Malaysian government 's "Abuse, Torture and Dehumanized Treatment of Migrant Workers at Detention Camps". She was arrested and charged in court in 1996 for spreading 'malicious lies' about the country, but was subsequently acquitted. Some Malaysians too do not take too kindly to the Rohingyas whom they consider to be parasites.

A refugee boat without its engine being towed out to sea by the Thai military

Refugees arrested by the Thai military on the beaches of Thailand

It reminds me of the time when Malaysia was host to Vietnamese refugees in the 70s and 80s. I remembered passing the Sungei Besi camp where the last of the Vietnamese were held behind barb wires before their repatriation to other countries. The most famous of the refugee camps was Pulau Bidong, off Trengganu where about 250,000 refugees passed through in transit to their adopted countries. Now we have Vietnamese workers coming to Malaysia to work.

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