The United States is gravely concerned about the plight of thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants stranded at sea in Southeast Asia.
Many of the migrants are Rohingya, a minority Muslim population in Burma. Burma refuses to recognize the Rohingya as Burmese citizens. They have been subjected to severe discrimination and violence, with Burmese authorities enforcing disproportionate restrictions on their movement. In Rakhine State, tens of thousands live as internally displaced persons in camps, with little access to livelihoods, markets, food, or places of worship.
They have become vulnerable to human traffickers who promise them a better life if they leave the country by boat. Up to an estimated half a million undocumented Rohingya and 32,000 registered Rohingya refugees also live in neighboring Cox’s Bazar district, Bangladesh, as well as other countries in the region.
Now, thousands of migrants are stranded in vessels in the Bay of Bengal, Andaman Sea and Strait of Malacca with little food or water, and many are reportedly in desperate shape.
The governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand have offered some assistance to the migrants and have already allowed nearly 4000 to land on their shores in recent days. Yesterday Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to take in another 7000, and asked the international community to help them with this humanitarian effort.
The United States urges all the countries of the region to work together quickly to save the lives of the migrants now at sea who are in need of an immediate rescue effort. As U.S. State Department Press Office Director Jeff Rathke said, “This is an emergency that we believe needs to be addressed with appropriate speed and resolve through a regionally coordinated effort to save the lives of thousands of vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers.”
In addition, Mr. Rathke said that the humanitarian situation of the Rohingyas in Burma’s Rakhine State needs attention, as does the need to create a path to citizenship for stateless persons, issues the United States has, and will continue to raise with the Burmese government. He also called on Burmese authorities to address the migrant smuggling and human trafficking of the Rohingya.
On May 29th the government of Thailand will host a regional conference in Bangkok to discuss and formulate a constructive solution to the plight of the migrants. The United States is sending a senior delegation to the conference, and will remain intensely engaged with regional governments to encourage a rapid response to this desperate humanitarian crisis.