Burma Times: 22 May 2015
YANGON — A senior US diplomat on Friday urged Myanmar to extend “citizenship” to the oppressed Rohingya minority to address the ongoing migrant crisis.
More than 3,500 migrants have swum to shore or been rescued off the coasts of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh since a Thai crackdown in early May on human-trafficking threw the illicit trade into chaos.
Myanmar, where many of the migrants start their journey, has faced increasing international pressure to stem the exodus from its shores and deliver urgent humanitarian relief to thousands still trapped at sea.
On Friday Myanmar said its navy had carried out its first rescueof a boat stacked with around 200 migrants in the Bay of Bengal, in a sign of compromise after widespread criticism for not taking any responsibility for the crisis.
“They should have a path to citizenship,” Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Yangon, referring to the Rohingya — 1.3 million of whom live in Myanmar yet are dismissed as Bangladeshi illegal immigrants by the authorities.
In comments a day after talks with Myanmar leaders, Blinken added “the uncertainty that comes from not having any status is one of the things that may drive people to leave”.
Blinken said the fact that Rohingya were willing “to put their lives in jeopardy” on deadly sea crossings was a “reflection of conditions in Rakhine state that are leading people to make this choice”.
“Even if we address the immediate crisis, we also must confront its root causes in order to achieve a sustainable solution,” Blinken said.
“The root of the problem for those leaving Myanmar is the political and social situation on the ground.
“Even as we tackle the immediate humanitarian emergency — that is literally to save and rescue people, bring them back to land, get them the care that they need and treat them appropriately — we also have to get at the underlying conditions.”
Myanmar’s government, however, has reiterated its refusal to recognise the stateless Rohingya as an ethnic group, preferring to call them “Bengalis”.
“We do not accept that term [Rohingya] here,” said Zaw Htay, director of the presidential office said on Thursday.
The rescue by Myanmar’s navy was welcomed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which said it was helping local authorities provide assistance to the migrants.
But fears remain for many more still left on boats in the Bay of Bengal with monsoon rains looming.
“We hope that this recent positive development will be followed by other disembarkations in Myanmar and across the region, well in advance of the coming monsoon rains,” UNHCR spokeswoman Vivian Tan told AFP.
Noble Peace Prize winning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has yet to comment on the current crisis, a silence that observers attribute to fears over alienating a swathe of the electorate just months ahead of the polls.