About 800,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar. They are a Muslim group in a Buddhist state. They are not recognized as one of Myanmar’s official minorities, which means they are subject to persecution and worse in that army-run dictatorship. Not surprisingly, thousands of Rohingya have fled their homeland. Officially, some 28,000 Rohingya live in refugee camps in Bangladesh; that number is dwarfed by the estimated 200,000 living illegally there.
The Rohingya’s precarious existence makes them easy prey for predators of all sorts. Human traffickers promise them better lives outside Myanmar — for a fee. The exodus to countries throughout Southeast Asia exposes them to different dangers. In recent weeks, some 200 Rohingya have been discovered adrift at sea. They tell of being towed into international waters by the Thai military, with engines sabotaged. Hundreds more are thought to have drowned.
After initially denying any involvement, the Thai military admitted towing the Rohingya out to sea, but with food, water and functioning engines. The military also deny charges of beating refugees before exiling them. In the face of growing international criticism, the Thai government has asked the U.N. High Commission for Refugees to inspect the refugees it has in custody. While rejecting allegations of Thai misconduct, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva blamed traffickers for the plight of the Rohingya and has called on all countries of the region to help deal with this problem.
Mr. Abhisit is right about one thing: While the number of Rohingya intercepted in Thai waters has jumped fourfold in two years — from 1,225 in 2006 to 4,886 last year — this is not just a Thai problem. Rohingya refugees are found in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, and refugees say they would rather die than go home.
Using Orwellian logic, Myanmar even denies that the refugees originate there: “Rohingya people are not among Myanmar’s more than 100 ethnic minority groups.” Nonetheless, the junta has said it will tighten its borders to prevent more people from fleeing the country. That is an ominous promise. The fate of the Rohingya is another line in the indictment against the junta that rules Myanmar. That does not absolve the rest of the world from doing more to help this embattled minority.
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