Thousands drifting at sea: migrant problem needs int’l solution

A rescued migrant weeps upon arrival Simpang Tiga, Aceh province, Indonesia, Wednesday, May 20, 2015.

A rescued migrant weeps upon arrival Simpang Tiga, Aceh province, Indonesia, Wednesday, May 20, 2015. <Photo=AP/Newsis>

DHAKA: About 8,000 migrants have been drifting in boats at the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca for the last two months. These migrants are mostly Rohingyas of Myanmar and fortune-seeker poor people of south-eastern region of Bangladesh. All these people are victims of organized human traffickers who lured and misguided the poor people and realized money from them assuring better jobs and better place to live in foreign countries. The unfortunate victims of the traffickers are passing their days in the sea in inhuman condition without food and water while about 200 of them died.

The engine boats and fishing trawlers carrying the migrants tried to reach the coast of Indonesia, Malaysia and also Thailand, but the boats were pushed back by the navy and coast guards of those three countries. A boat carrying migrants sank on Friday near Aceh province of Indonesia and some 200 people were rescued from the sea by local fishermen. These people were given temporary shelter in Aceh province and provided food, water and medicines. Rescued people narrated horrific tales of their plight and sufferings in the sea for couple of months.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged the countries concerned including Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to provide shelter to drifting people on humanitarian grounds. The United States and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also issued statements urging all concerned to help survive the drifting people. Thailand has taken initiative to hold a summit meeting of four countries – Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand – later this month to discuss the crisis created due to human trafficking and drifting migrants at the sea around these countries.

As the reports of human trafficking from Bangladesh and Myanmar have been pouring in almost everyday for the last couple of weeks, Dhaka has enhanced its vigilance over the matter and asked the law enforcers to contain human trafficking as soon as possible. Bangladesh State Minister for Home Asaduzzaman Khan said the government is in close touch with the authorities of Myanmar and Thailand to check human trafficking. He expressed the hope that the government would soon be able to identify the human traffickers and bring them to justice for their nefarious acts.

The human trafficking is a matter of concern not only for Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand, but also for Malaysia and Indonesia. According to reports, poor people, mostly Rohingyas of Myanmar and some people of Bangladesh are lured by unscrupulous traffickers for better jobs abroad. These people were taken by engine boats to northern region of Thailand where they were confined in camps in jungles.

The traffickers also realized ransom from the relatives of many of these confined people. It was also reported that a good number of these innocent people died in the jungle of Thailand and their mass graves have also been discovered recently. The traffickers also sent large number of people by engine boats or trawlers towards the coasts of Malaysia and Indonesia. But the law enforcers of these two countries refused them to land on their coast while their boats were driven away. Now thousands of trafficked people are reportedly floating in the boats on deep sea.

The innocent poor people were fortune-seekers who were lured by the human traffickers. When they realize their mistake, they could not come back home as they virtually became prisoners of the traffickers. Just a week ago, 116 such victims of trafficking were rescued by Bangladesh Coast Guard from a trawler in the sea near Bangladesh’s southern point Teknaf and they were handed over to police. All of them described their horrific experience in the hands of the traffickers.

Bangladesh State Minister for Home Asaduzzaman Khan also told media last week that the government would not give any concession to these culprits and frauds who are responsible for human trafficking. He said the law enforcement agencies have been directed to identify the people involved in trafficking Bangladeshi nationals to abroad. He mentioned that the government has already identified some human traffickers in border areas and caught some of them red-handed. Members of the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), Coast Guard, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), police and other law enforcing agencies are working to contain human trafficking in border areas. Such a combined drive has yielded good results and some of the traffickers could be apprehended.

The traffickers have been working as a syndicate spread over Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand. Therefore, coordinated actions of the three countries are needed against the traffickers. Bangladesh government is already in close touch with Myanmar and Thailand in this regard and it is expected that due to coordinated efforts of these three countries, the heinous crime like human trafficking would be checked permanently. At the same time awareness of the people is essential to fight such crime and there should be a social movement by common people against human trafficking as well as human traffickers.

Besides human trafficking, persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine province of Myanmar is a major reason for the migrant problem created in the region. Rohingyas, an ethnic community of Myanmar, are living in Rakhine province for centuries and most of them are Muslims. But these Rohingya Muslims have been facing persecution by Myanmar authorities for the last three or four decades. They are facing discrimination by the Myanmar government while they are not getting similar rights and facilities like other citizens of the country.

Due to discrimination and persecution, the Rohingya Muslims are living in Rakhine province in abject poverty. Sometime they also faced communal violence. In such a situation, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have crossed border and took shelter at different places in southern Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh. Some 30,000 of them are now staying in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar under supervision of the UNHCR while over 200,000 are living illegally at different places of the district. Their illegal stay has created social problems in the area.

The Rohingya people living in Bangladesh often try to go to Thailand and also to Malaysia and Indonesia crossing the sea by boat. And these people often become victims of human traffickers. Rohingyas are also trafficked from Myanmar coast and loaded in boats for their voyage towards Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Thus a migrant problem has been created in the region that disturbs all the countries around.

While the drifting people in the sea should be rescued for humanitarian reason, there should be a permanent solution of the problem for the interest of all the countries concerned. Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia are members of ASEAN – the forum of south-east Asian countries. The ASEAN can take initiative to solve the problem, especially the Rohingya issue of Myanmar which needs a permanent settlement. The United Nations has also a major role to play in this regard since all the countries are its members. Combined efforts of all the countries concerned as well as international initiative can find a permanent solution to this tragic human crisis.

by Shafiqul Bashar, President, AJA Bangladesh Chapter

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