100 civil society organisations express concerns over Rohingya and Bangladeshi “boat people”
15 February 2009 7:00 pm
About 100 civil society organisations have signed the "Statement on the Treatment of Rohingya and Bangladeshi 'Boat People' in Asia", issued on 7 February 2009. Expressing their concerns about the treatment of Rohingyas from Burma and migrants from Bangladesh, they called upon the governments of Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and beyond to secure their status and protect their rights.
About 100 civil society organisations have signed the "Statement on the Treatment of Rohingya and Bangladeshi 'Boat People' in Asia", issued on 7 February 2009. Expressing their concerns about the treatment of Rohingyas from Burma and migrants from Bangladesh, they called upon the governments of Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and beyond to secure their status and protect their rights. An abstract of the statement, originally written by members of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), is provided below.
We, the undersigned organisations, are extremely concerned about the treatment of over a thousand Rohingyas from Burma and migrants from Bangladesh who have been forcibly expelled and abandoned in international waters by the Thai security forces since December 2008.
Over the past few weeks, several boats have been rescued off the coasts of Indonesia and the Andaman Islands of India. Survivors tell of having been detained in Thailand, beaten, and towed out to sea on boats without engines or sufficient food and water. Several hundred remain missing and are feared dead.
We are also concerned about the fate, including possible refoulement, of the Rohingya who remain in detention in Thailand, Indonesia and India. If Rohingyas are returned to Burma they could face widespread human rights violations, including forced labour, forced eviction, land confiscation and severe restrictions on freedom of movement. Refoulement of such individuals is prohibited under customary international law.
Over the past two years, the number of people leaving Bangladesh and Burma by boat for Southeast Asia has grown. They have fled in search of protection, safety and/or work. Most are Rohingyas, a Muslim minority from western Burma.
The Rohingya have been rendered stateless in Burma and have experienced systematic discrimination, exclusion, and human rights violations in Burma for decades, prompting hundreds of thousands to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, most notably Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand. Most are without legal status and are vulnerable to arrest, imprisonment, detention and deportation.
Aside from the Rohingya, millions of ethnic minorities and political activists have fled Burma, fearing persecution, violence and human rights abuses.
We are concerned by the following reports about the Rohingya:
- The ill-treatment and failure to provide adequate assistance to hundreds who were arrested and detained in Thailand. Since December 2008, those captured at sea by the Thai Navy were directly transferred to the custody of the Thai Army at Koh Sai Daeng. Despite their weak condition, they were not provided with adequate food, were forced to sleep outside under armed guard, and were subject to ill-treatment such as kicking and beatings with a stick. They were then forced to board boats that were not seaworthy, were given inadequate provisions, and then towed out to sea and abandoned.
- Those who initially refused to board the vessel were threatened at gunpoint. Four men were thrown overboard with their hands tied.
- Hundreds, perhaps thousands, remain missing, including children.
- Thailand and Indonesia have announced their intention to deport the Rohingya in their custody.
We recognise that:
- The Indonesian and Indian governments have conducted rescue at sea operations, providing relief and medical attention to rescued Rohingyas and Bangladeshis.
- On 26 January 2009, the Thai government transferred 78 new arrivals to Police and Immigration authorities rather than the Army.
- The Thai government has indicated that it will postpone the deportation of the 78 Rohingya arrivals until further investigation of their injuries. The Thai Government has also called for a regional solution to the plight of Rohingya.
(Photo courtesy of www.nadir.org)
For the complete statement, please click here (.pdf).