Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia’s policy of pushing boats of asylum seekers from Burma is‘cold-hearted,’ Human Rights Watch said in a statement released to the media.
The International Organization for Migration estimates that as many as 8,000 Rohingya asylum seekers and Bangladeshi migrants are in desperate need of aid and are believed to be stranded in the Andaman Ocean and Malacca Straits without adequate food water or sanitation.
“The Burmese government has created this crisis with their continued persecution of the Rohingya,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director said, “Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia have made things much worse with cold-hearted policies to push back this new wave of ‘boat people’ that puts thousands of lives at risk.”
The HRW statement comes after as at least 2,000 asylum seekers landed in Malaysia and Indonesia on May 10 after facing weeks at sea in overcramped conditions, many without food and safe drinking water.
Those in the boats are mainly ethnic Rohingya, who face persecution and discrimination in Burma. People smugglers have been documented transporting them to Thailand where they are held in jungle camps for ransoms of up to $2,100 dollars each.
Those unable to pay are allegedly abused. The bodies of 26 suspected asylum seekers were discovered in a mass grave on the Thai-Malaysian border on May 1st, while more than 250 people have since escaped camps where they were detained by smugglers, following a series of operations by Thai authorities.
HRW said that asylum seekers were being pushed back by Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, which left them with little choice but to take the most desperate options.
“The Thai, Malaysian, and Indonesian navies should stop playing a three-way game of human ping pong, and instead should work together to rescue all those on these ill-fated boats,” Robertson said. “The world will judge these governments by how they treat these most vulnerable men, women, and children.”
HRW said that more than 130,000 Rohingya have been confined to internally displaced persons camps with little freedom of movement to pursue livelihoods, and a lack of access to adequate food, health care, and education.
The Arakan Project estimates that around 28,500 Rohingya have fled on boats so far in 2015.