By WASAMON AUDJARINT,
THE SUNDAY NATION
WHILE THE INTERNATIONAL community is working to help Rohingya who fled the military “clearance operation” in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, their ethnic kin in Thailand found it difficult to do anything on their behalf.
As the number of refugees, mostly Rohingya fleeing from Myanmar to Bangladesh since late last month, reached more than 420,000, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia Patrick Murphy said there was an urgent need to stop the violence and facilitate humanitarian assistance.
Murphy was in Myanmar from Monday to Wednesday to assess the situation and while there, he visited Rakhine and met with senior officials, including the leader of the civilian government, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the military commander in chief, Min Aung Hlaing.
While Washington has limited engagement with the Tatmadaw – the Burmese military – the US supported the Suu Kyi government’s effort to end the crisis, he said.
“We appeal to the military, while they have a legitimate need to respond to the militant attack, there is equally a need to protect the civilian population, to facilitate humanitarian assistance and to contribute to reduce the tension and not discriminate when it comes to those who receive humanitarian assistance under the rule of law,” Murphy said.
He attended her national address in Nay Pyi Taw on Tuesday and said Suu Kyi had laid down fundamental principles for all parties in the conflict to end the crisis and stabilise Rakhine state.
Murphy was in Thailand on Friday and said he had consulted with the authorities in Bangkok to seek ways to help end the Rohingya crisis but did not reveal the Thai government’s stance, which apparently was similar to that of the Myanmar military.
The Thai junta, which prefers to call them “Bengali”, as do the Tatmadaw and Myanmar elite, has expressed its readiness to join international communities in providing humanitarian assistance, but is unlikely to offer refugee status to any more of them in Thailand.
Thailand has a few thousand Rohingya, who fled the trouble at home to settle in the kingdom since violence erupted some years ago.
Siyeed Alam and Muhammad Rafik have made new lives for themselves in Thailand since leaving their Rohingya clan in Rakhine state nearly 20 years ago. As they themselves are still struggling to acquire legal status in the Kingdom, there is little they can do to assist their friends and relatives fleeing to Bangladesh.
“These are the conditions that the fleeing Rohingya are living under,” Siyeed said in an interview with The Nation, showing a clip that one of his friends had sent him. “This is as much as we can do. Showing outsiders of what happen, speaking for them, and hoping them some international organisations will seriously look into the matter.”
A few years ago, the Rohingya were able to travel across the Andaman Sea in the hope of being able to settle in Thailand, Siyeed said. However, the recent insurgency had been so sudden that they had no time to prepare for such a trip, not even time to try to sneak through the Thailand-Myanmar border.
Their only choice was to keep fleeing westward to Bangladesh, even though they knew the refugee camps there might already be overloaded.
Muhammad and Siyeed might have been lucky is than they were merely adventurers, not crisis escapers, when they settled in Thailand and managed to get jobs.
Siyeed, who also chairs the Rohingya Association in Thailand, is a shopkeeper while Muhammad helps Thai courts as an interpreter for Rohingya facing legal problems.
They are mostly reduced to raising public awareness about the Rakhine crisis. Their Facebook page, Rohingya Association Thailand, actively shares news from a Rohingya perspective on the crisis in Rakhine and has gained more than 3,700 likes so far.
“We are not asking for special treatment – we know that it’s not our place to demand anything,” Siyeed said. “We also know how the Thais perceive us Rohingya. Some may be compassionate and some may not be. People can have different opinions and we’re fine with that.”