Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - The migrants emergency continues in the seas of Southeast Asia continues with thousands of people fleeing persecution and abuse adrift at sea, aboard makeshift boats or searching for a coast to land on. Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, the two nations involved, have so far received only survivors of sunken ships, while others were ferried off their coast, outside their territorial waters.
Right now, the situation is most critical in Langsa, in the Indonesian province of Aceh, where they at least 1,500 boat people landed just hours ago. The mayor of the city is appealing for help "immediately" from the central government and "any other institution" of good will. Throughout the region, Southeast Asian governments seem unwilling to tackle the tragedy and ensure the desperate people - a large majority Rohingya from Myanmar, joined by migrant workers from Bangladesh - a safe haven.
The eyes of the region are focused on the government of Naypyidaw, accused of having given rise to the emergency with repeated attacks and violence against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority persecuted in Myanmar. The Burmese government denies the charges and says it has no responsibility in the affair. A crossfire of accusations and retaliation, which adds further drama to a situation on the verge of collapse.
In recent weeks thousands of "boat people" from Myanmar and Bangladesh managed to swim to shore, or were rescued or intercepted off the Indonesian and Malaysian coast. The crisis which has deepened with the crackdown imposed by Thailand – the real hub for human trafficking - after the discovery of a mass grave near the border with Malaysia in which dozens of Rohingya corpses were buried.
Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, has expressed full support for the government of Thailand, which has proposed a regional summit in Bangkok on 29 May. During a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-chan, the head of UN spoke of the need for "significant" measures to deal with the migrant emergency and create an international coalition that will have the task of solving the problem. Leaders of 15 countries have been invited to the summit, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Australia and the United States.
Anil Netto, a columnist with the Malaysia Herald, expert in human rights issues and the problems of injustice in socio-economic development, says that the problem of trafficking in human lives “has been ignored in the region for too long”. And the phenomenon has been "widespread" and "now the issue has exploded" in all its tragedy. He told AsiaNews: "The plight of the boat people has reached alert levels in other parts of the world", just think of how many "are fleeing areas of conflict in the Middle East" and head "to Europe" in search of a safe haven.
The activist and scholar says that the Malaysian government in Kuala Lumpur, according to "principles of humanity", should allow Rohingya boat people "to find a safe haven" in the country, pending "a shared and long-term solution". He calls for a "greater involvement" at the level of ASEAN countries and says it is "shameful" that some of the governments are "washing their hands" of the problem.
He condemns the push back policy adopted by Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, because "cannot escape responsibility". The root of the matter, he warns, revolves around Myanmar’s full membership of ASEAN and "the legitimacy" guaranteed its military leadership, which at home perpetrates violence and abuse.
And the Rohingya, denied the right of citizenship, are one of the worst elements of the dispute. Like many other scholars, Anil Netto states that "the solution to the crisis" is "simple" and is to "guarantee citizenship to Rohingya in Myanmar", thus ASEAN should "put pressure" on Naypyidaw. "Asean – he concludes - has a role to play in providing a safe haven for boat people, until there is a solution to the crisis once and for all".
Hundreds of refugees who arrived in 2015 during the migration crisis are held whilst noting is done to decide their future. UNHCR Malaysia representative Richard Towle spoke at a photo exhibition on the plight of migrants organised by Agence France-Presse.