The Struggle of Immigrants at Sea in Southeast Asia
Imagine living in a country which does not even consider you a citizen solely because of your religious beliefs, and now imagine trying to leave such a country, only to be turned away by several others, leaving you stranded in the ocean with dwindling food supplies and no clean water.
This horrible scenario has been a reality for around 11,000 Rohingya Muslims who are attempting to flee the country of Myanmar. The Rohingya and Bangladeshi peoples have been fleeing from Myanmar for many years as a result of religious persecution and in search of new jobs respectively.
Usually, immigrants have relied on normal passages to allow legal entry into their destinations, but this is being cracked down on. With increasing populations, countries such as Malaysia are being forced to make tough decisions when it comes to the plight of these immigrants’ lives.
In the past, the Rohingya people have paid human traffickers to smuggle them into neighboring countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia, but with populations rapidly increasing, Malaysia has blockaded the north-western border to prevent immigrants from entering Thailand. With more and more countries turning away immigrants, or “boat-people,” as the locals refer to them, many have taken to the sea, but with traffickers being highly persecuted, they are often left abandoned at sea.
Several ships have already sunk and many local fishermen have been attempting to rescue what passengers they can. However, no good deed goes unpunished. Fishermen have been instructed not to rescue any migrants unless their boat is sinking, and some have even had to watch people drown because entry via boat would deem an illegal migration into the country.
Luckily, 3000 individuals have been rescued from the abandoned boats, but hospitals in Malaysia do not have the means to treat all of the individuals suffering from starvation, dehydration and sickness.
The mayor of one of the coastal towns receiving “boat-people” has called for the necessity of aid from NGOs and the World Health Organization. These are small island towns which do not have the capacity to care for such a large number of people. Many surviving immigrants recount major fights over food on the boats.
Because people were stranded for such long periods of time, it is an absolute wonder that so many managed to survive. However, there are still 8,000 individuals stranded at sea. The U.N. has condemned the refusal of immigrants from Myanmar by these countries. Even with help on the way, there is growing concern that time is running out.
One survivor stated, “We were hoping that more ships would be found, and that more people would be rescued and allowed to come onto shore. Unfortunately, this did not seem to have happened.”
While fishermen continue to attempt to provide as much aid as they can to the individuals stranded at sea, it is high time the government intervened and rescued these ‘boat-people’. Regardless of an individual’s religious background or ethnic make-up, everyone deserves to be rescued. This is an atrocity which can soon turn into a tragedy, hopefully these people can find safe homes soon.
– Sumita Tellakat