Urgent human tragedy with possible solutions (The Straits Times)

WE, AT Maruah, a human rights group, read with dismay the reports about Singapore and other Asean countries turning away refugees from Myanmar (“‘Boat people’ crisis a test for Asean”; yesterday).

This is a humanitarian crisis brought about by despair of the Rohingyas, greed of individuals, corporates, some politicians and military men, and the inadequacy of a system to protect people.

The Rohingya issue has been discussed for a decade and, in recent years and months, has taken on an earnestness that seemed to have been ignored by governments.

There are enough Articles in the Asean Human Rights Declaration and the outlined role of the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights to look into the issue and to have engaged on a systemic approach.

Maruah has been involved in discussions conducted by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), been a participant of workshops conducted by Thailand and Malaysia on the issue of refugees, and has visited the unofficial camp in Kuala Lumpur.

Everything in those discussions painted a dire picture and a misery of a people whom no one wanted.

Maruah appreciates Thailand’s initiation of a discussion set for May 29, which 15 countries are attending. We also welcome the efforts made by Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

But we are deeply troubled that Singapore, the wealthiest nation in Asean, cannot do more for the Rohingyas.

Offering residency and resettlement for some refugees and their families each year with scholarships and so on, would show our commitment and progressive approach, in a world that is beginning to see high mobility of people leaving troubled spaces.

Singapore can also attend the 15-country dialogue and offer humanitarian assistance, an area that, we are proud to say, Singapore is becoming proficient in.

Myanmar needs to make a commitment to the Rohingyas, who have been part of the Burmese landscape from as far back as the 15th century, according to many historical accounts.

But they have not been given any citizenship, and Myanmar officially does not wish to engage on this issue. We urge Myanmar to attend the discussion in Thailand to be part of the solution on this issue.

This humanitarian crisis is the first real test for Asean to work together on an issue that no one country wishes to claim. But it is an urgent human tragedy.

Yet, there are possibilities, as the UNHCR has shared a solution-oriented approach since 2006.

As an Asean community, we can and should do better – by getting involved and committed – and stop the ping-pong over human beings.

Braema Mathi (Ms)

President

Maruah Singapore