Kofi Annan urges cross-border co-operation to solve Rohingya conflict
Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan urged better cross-border co-operation between Bangladesh and Myanmar on Thursday in order to resolve the conflict between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar's troubled Rakhine state.
Annan spoke at the end of his first visit to Myanmar as chair of an advisory commission on settling the unrest in Rakhine.
"We are not here as inspectors or policemen," he said, promising the commission will conduct itself impartially.
The Rohingya are a minority Muslim group in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar. Most of the Rohingya in Myanmar live in Rakhine state. The government does not consider them to be a native ethnic group, but illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, stripping them of their citizenship and property.
The Rohingya refugee crisis
Boats carrying more than 1,600 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants arrived off the coasts of Indonesia and Malaysia last week after human traffickers reportedly dumped the boats in shallow waters. Others have entered Thailand's territorial waters. Some refugees were able to land; others have been towed back out to sea in their boats. All three countries have stated that they view the refugees as illegal migrants and have said they would provide food and water for them but not safe harbour. In this photo gallery, we take a look at the refugees' ordeal.
Rohingya migrants on a boat off the southern Thai island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman Sea. The boat, which was crammed with scores of Rohingya migrants, including many young children, was found drifting in Thai waters on 14 May. Passengers said several people had died in the previous days. Dozens of visibly weak people were on the deck of the stricken vessel, which was found apparently adrift several kilometres off Koh Lipe.
On Sunday, 10 May, a group of about 600 people arrived in the Indonesian province of Aceh on four boats. At about the same time, more than 1,000 others landed in three boats on the northern Malaysian resort island of Langkawi. At least two of these overcrowded boats were towed to shore by local fishermen. Those rescued were rounded up by the police. Pictured here: migrants believed to be Rohingya rest inside a shelter, Lhoksukon, Indonesia, 11 May 2015.
Human traffickers apparently abandoned the ships and left the hungry migrants to fend for themselves. Indonesian authorities and aid agencies believe the rescued group had been at sea for about a week. Many were in need of medical care. The authorities warn more desperate migrants could still be in peril at sea. Pictured here: Indonesian Rescue Team members distribute food to migrants in a shelter in Lhoksukon, Indonesia, 11 May 2015.
Every year, thousands of impoverished Bangladeshis and Muslim Rohingya from Buddhist-majority Myanmar brave perilous sea routes in rickety traffickers' boats similar to this one in a desperate attempt to reach Malaysia and Indonesia. The UNHCR estimates that some 25,000 Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis boarded people smugglers' boats in the first three months of this year.
Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Most of them are not recognised as citizens of the country, and outbreaks of sectarian violence have prompted many to flee. "An entire population feels their only option is to seek asylum by sea," says Matthew Smith of Fortify Rights. The figure of Rohingya trafficked in Thailand since 2012 could be as high as a quarter million.
Fleeing discrimination, many Rohingya contact a broker who tells them they will be taken directly to Malaysia for the equivalent of up to $200, says Smith. Throughout the journey they are denied adequate food and water and subjected to beatings. Some are even killed. The boats travel to Thai waters where they are transported to makeshift jungle camps onshore. Pictured here: Rohingya women and children on a military truck to be taken to a temporary shelter in Seunuddon, Indonesia, 10 May 2015.
Many Rohingya are forced to cross Thailand using vehicles run by smugglers, who hold them in captivity in squalid jungle camps until a ransom is paid by their family back home. However, following the Thai government's recent crackdown on human trafficking after the discovery of several mass graves (seen here), many smugglers are taking new measures, putting the migrants' lives at greater risk.
As a result of the crackdown by Thai authorities, Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees were found wandering around southern Thailand near suspected jungle camps, apparently after they were abandoned by the smugglers who fled. Pictured here: rescue workers and forensic officials inspect the site of a mass grave near the Thai–Malaysian border. Authorities in Thailand uncovered the mass grave on 1 May 2015. It is believed to contain the remains of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh.
South-East Asia is being hit by a wave of migrants, partly driven by conflict, persecution and poverty. The Asia-Pacific region recently recorded an estimated 11.7 million trafficked people, the highest figure of any region. The Greater-Mekong Sub-region encompassing Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam features some of the most extensive flows of migration and human trafficking.
Rohingya migrants swim to collect food supplies dropped by a Thai army helicopter. Thailand, which is often a transit point for the migrants, has asked for high-level meetings between the regional players, a request that has been rejected by Myanmar, where many of the refugees originate.
A Rohingya migrant, who arrived in Indonesia by boat, cries while speaking to a relative in Malaysia on a mobile phone at a temporary shelter in Kuala Langsa in Indonesia's Aceh Province, 16 May 2015. Many vessels crammed with refugees were sent back to sea despite a United Nations call to rescue thousands adrift in South-East Asian waters with dwindling food and water.
Many Rohingya have been forced to live in squalid camps and the international community has repeatedly criticised Myanmar for discriminating against them. Annan's appointment to the commission provoked criticism among Myanmar's nationalists, who argue the conflict is an internal affair and reject foreign mediation.
Several hundred people held a rally against Annan at his arrival at Sittwe airport on Tuesday. A proposal by the Arakan National Party to remove the commission's foreign members failed.
In his meeting held in Sittwe, Annan met Rohingya representatives who complained that they can't move freely and need permits in order to get medical treatment while the Buddhist Rakhine population told him they feel neglected by the international community.
Aung Win, a Rohingya activist from Sittwe, said that his community welcomed Annan's visit: "This time I have real hope that there will be a better future for our Rohingya people." (dpa)
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