Fortify Rights, a human rights organization that has been documenting the persecution of Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya said in a media statement released on Wednesday 13 May that, “Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia should immediately coordinate search and rescue operations for Rohingya asylum seekers and possible survivors of trafficking from Myanmar and Bangladesh who are stranded at sea.”
Fortify Rights urged the three governments to “open their borders to asylum seekers and provide survivors with access to asylum procedures, protection from detention and forced returns, and freedom of movement.”
In 2014 Fortify Rights released two reports that documented the persecution of the Rohingya by the Burma government. The reports, Policies of Persecution: Ending Abusive State Policies Against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and Myanmar: Authorities Complicit in Rohingya Trafficking, Smuggling were also used in testimony by Fortify Right’s executive director, Matthew Smith to the United States Congress in April for its annual Trafficking in Persons Report.
Mr Smith said the current humanitarian crisis demanded an immediate response from Burma’s neighbors, “lives are on the line. Regional governments should act decisively to rescue and protect asylum seekers and trafficking survivors, not drive them back out to sea.”
Fortify Rights in its media statement said that since the “discovery of mass graves of more than 30 bodies in an abandoned human trafficking camp in Sadao District, Thailand, authorities had arrested several suspected traffickers, including government officials.”
Fortify Rights pointed out that, “Thailand has also increased its border enforcement and redoubled its policy of pushing away ships of asylum seekers from Myanmar and Bangladesh. Some human traffickers have abandoned ships at sea, leaving thousands of people stranded. More than 2,500 Rohingya and Bangladeshis landed in Aceh, Indonesia and Langkawi, Malaysia this week after members of a transnational criminal syndicate abandoned ships.”
Fortify Rights warned that “hundreds more people are adrift on deserted boats at sea and several thousand others may be following them. Several ships carrying Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution and systematic abuse in Myanmar reportedly departed Myanmar and Bangladesh in recent days and are destined for Thailand and Malaysia.”
Fortify Rights urged “governments in the region and the wider international community should commit financial and technical resources to facilitate a coordinated response to saves lives and ensure protections for asylum seekers, survivors of human trafficking, and migrants.”