What The Government of Singapore Can Do For The Boat People of Myanmar

rohingya1(Note: This article was translated from the original Malay version (click here), published on 20 May 2015. The translation was made possible with the assistance of bro. Mohammad Hafiz Kusairi. Thank you.)

For the past few days, news reports and pictures on the ‘boat people’ from Myanmar have filled the media and touched the sentiments of many.

More became affected when the countries where these boats are stranded on refused to accept them (the ‘boat people’) and proceeded to return them to international waters.

Even though they have been provided with food supply and fuel for them to continue their journey to other places, this initiative is still deemed to be inhumane given the appalling condition of these overcrowded boats and the subsequent risks that these boats will likely face such as tumultuous weather conditions which will potentially sink them, further damage to their already critical state and the threat of pirates.

All these are certainly life-threatening possibilities for the ‘boat-people’ who are not made up solely of young and able-bodied men but also women and children in weakened states, despite the food and fuel supply.

The government of Singapore through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated that the government isn’t able to accept nor accommodate these refugees given the small size of this country.

This reality is understandable.

Even though Singapore had once accommodated thousands of ‘boat people’ from Vietnam, but the population of Singapore today has multiplied since then.

Nevertheless, it is hoped that the government of Singapore doesn’t be merely contented with the provision of a tokenistic humanitarian aid to the ‘boat people’ prior to releasing them to the international waters.

Our humanitarian values are challenged there is an assumption that “it’s fine to do just that” to the point that we are contented to let the lives of thousands of weak human beings become exposed to danger, when there is the ability to explore avenues through which more constructive efforts can be generated.

I am not an expert in this field but as a concerned citizen, I am called upon to provide suggestions to the government of Singapore.

The first suggestion is to take an immediate step towards the creation of a temporary shelter for these refugees.

This shelter need not necessarily be one for the long run.

It is necessary to enable these refugees to get the necessary treatment, to enable the processes which are relevant to the international law involving refugees to be set into motion or to allow them respite till they are relocated to a safer place through safer means as well.

The government of Singapore can persuade other countries affected by this crisis – Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia to prepare a temporary shelter for these refugees as they are bigger countries.

As a stakeholder in this issue, the government of Singapore can offer financial aid on the basis of humanity to partially cover the cost of these operations.

The management of such operations can be given to international agencies such as UNHCR or reliable humanitarian organizations.

Secondly, the government of Singapore along with affected countries can effect something to ensure that the government of Myanmar enforce concrete actions to resolve the oppression faced by the ‘boat people’ which is one of the fundamental reasons for the ongoing crisis.

It is a crisis; not a peripheral or insignificant issue, given that the number of ‘boat people’ who are stranded has amounted to thousands and these refugees have become victims of parties which have capitalized on their plight to the point that a significant number have lost their lives as evidenced by the illegal camps in the jungles of Thailand recently.

The oppression of faced by the people of Rohingya is no longer a myth or a mere perception for as early as in 2012, a number of Buddhist monasteries from around the world has made public statements to reject the treatment of the Rohingya community in Myanmar as part of the Buddhist teachings. (refer to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/10/buddhist-leaders-respond-to-violence-against-muslims-in-myanmar_n_2272336.html )

Similarly, the statement released by the National League for Democracy in Myanmar, the opposition party under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi which has called upon the Myanmar government to grant citizenship to the Rohingya people as a long term solution and the increased international pressure on her to assume a firmer stance highlights the pertinence of addressing the oppression faced by the Rohingya people.

One of the things addressed in the statement which was delivered through an interview with The Independence by its spokesman, U Nyan Winh was, “If they are not accepted (as citizens), they cannot just be sent onto rivers. Can’t be pushed out to sea. They are humans. I just see them as humans who are entitled to human rights.” (Peter Popham, “Burma’s opposition demands government gives citizenship to Rohingya refuges adrift on the Andaman Sea”, The Independent, 19 May 2015)

A prominent Buddhist monk in Myanmar, U Pinnyasiha who is renowned for his opposition to anti-Muslim rhetoric highlighted that the ‘boat people’ problem is related to the internal issues and policy in Myanmar.

He told The Independent,” “The Burmese government refuses to take responsibility for this problem because the Indonesians and Thais are using the word Rohingya instead of Bengalis. But they must take responsibility…These people in boats are in really big trouble, I feel very sorry for them and as a Buddhist monk I would really like to help them. The government should solve the problem in a dignified manner. Together with the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) governments, they should decide how to solve the problem peacefully.” (Peter Popham, “Burma’s opposition demands government gives citizenship to Rohingya refuges adrift on the Andaman Sea”, The Independent, 19 May 2015)

From a logical perspective, it is absurd to suggest that the reason for thousands of people leaving their homes with their lives at stake was a result of their gullibility in being deceived by human trafficking syndicates and not by the chronic problem of oppression.

It is hoped that the government of Singapore can take its first steps based on the principle of “what is right” for mankind and not just “what is the national interest” only.

The government of Myannmar cannot claim that the problem of the Rohingya community is a domestic problem that shouldn’t be interfered by other countries.

This issue has now evolved into an issue involving other countries as a result of the presence of the ‘boat people’ in the waters of the said countries which has forced these countries to take certain actions and incur the consequent cost.

Lastly, I would like to suggest to NGOs in Singapore, especially Muslim organizations, to write in to the Myanmar embassy here to state their concerns over the current developments and seek a just solution for the Rohingya people.

As for my Muslim brothers, let us recite the following supplication:

رَبَّنَا أَخْرِجْهُمْ مِنْ هَـذِهِ الْقَرْيَةِ الظَّالِمِ أَهْلُهَا وَاجْعَل لَّهُمْ مِن لَّدُنكَ وَلِيًّا وَاجْعَل لَّهُمْ مِن لَّدُنكَ نَصِيرًا

“O Allah, release them from an abode with evil occupants and provide for them protection through You

and grant them assistance through You.”