Myanmar says Rohingya migrant crisis not its fault

Boats filled with more than 2,000 desperate refugees have arrived in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia in recent weeks. 

(AP Photo/Binsar Bakkara)
An ethnic Rohingya woman prays in a car taking her to the local hospital as she tries to find her niece who went missing in Langsa, Aceh province, Indonesia, Saturday, May 16, 2015. The woman is fleeing persecution in Myanmar.

Myanmar refused to shoulder the blame for an escalating humanitarian crisis on Saturday, and cast doubts on whether it will attend a meeting to be hosted by Thailand later this month aimed at easing an emergency that has left boatloads of refugees stranded at sea.

"We are not ignoring the migrant problem, but our leaders will decide whether to attend the meeting based on what is going to be discussed," said Maj. Zaw Htay, director of the office of Myanmar's president. "We will not accept the allegations by some that Myanmar is the source of the problem."

Boats filled with more than 2,000 desperate and hungry refugees have arrived in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia in recent weeks, and thousands more migrants are believed to be adrift at sea after a crackdown on human traffickers prompted captains and smugglers to abandon their boats.

Many of those on the overcrowded vessels are ethnic Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar. Others are Bangladeshis fleeing poverty.

Both groups seem intent on reaching Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country that has hosted more than 45,000 Rohingya over the years but now says it can't accept any more. Indonesia and Thailand have voiced similar stances.

All three countries have their navies stationed in boats at maritime borders to push boats away or execute a so-called "help-on" policy of giving the boats food and water — and pointing them to other countries.

Myanmar appeared to direct some of the blame for the current crisis on its neighbors.

"From a humanitarian point of view, it's sad that these people are being pushed out to sea by some countries," said Zaw Htay, who heads the office of Myanmar President Thein Sein, who has not spoken publicly about the crisis since it escalated May 1.

Thailand has organized its May 29 regional meeting with officials from 15 countries to discuss the "root causes" of "irregular migration in the Indian Ocean."

On Friday, Zaw Htay said that Myanmar's government "will not attend a regional meeting hosted by Thailand if 'Rohingya' is mentioned on the invitation." He accused governments of trying to divert their human smuggling and slavery problems by dumping the blame on Myanmar.

On Saturday, he said the official invitation still had not arrived.

An increasingly alarmed United Nations warned Friday against "floating coffins" and urged regional leaders to put human lives first. The United States urged governments not to push back new boat arrivals.

"The gravest violation of human rights are committed by those corrupt officials who are involved in human trafficking activities and colluded with the trafficking syndicates," Zaw Htay said.

Thai authorities, long accused of turning a blind eye to human trafficking in exchange for pay, launched a crackdown May 1 after finding dozens of bodies buried at traffickers' jungle camps on Thailand's border with Malaysia. Dozens of Thai officials were arrested and more than 50 police are under investigation for complicity.

The U.N. calls the Rohingya one of the world's most persecuted minorities. For decades, the Rohingya suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Denied citizenship by national law, they are effectively stateless.

In the last three years, attacks on Rohingya have left hundreds dead and sparked an exodus of an estimated 120,000 people who have boarded human traffickers' boats to flee to other countries. The flight helped fuel a longstanding human smuggling industry in the region.

Even the name Rohingya is taboo in Myanmar, which calls them "Bengalis" and insists they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though Rohingya have lived in the predominantly Buddhist Southeast Asian country for generations.

___

Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok contributed to this report.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.