1,600 Rohingya, Bangladeshi migrants rescued, others at sea
Hundreds of migrants abandoned at sea by smugglers in Southeast Asia have reached land and relative safety in the past two days. But an estimated 6,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar remain trapped in crowded, wooden boats, migrant officials and activists said. With food and clean water running low, some could be in real danger.
Worried that vessels will start washing to shore with dead bodies, the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees, the United States and several other foreign governments and international organisations have held emergency meetings, but participants say there are no immediate plans to search for vessels in the busy Malacca Strait.
One of the concerns is what to do with the Rohingya if a rescue is launched.
The minority group is denied citizenship in Myanmar, and other countries have long worried that opening their doors to a few would result in an unstemmable flow of poor, uneducated migrants.
"These are people in desperate straits," said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch, calling on governments to band together to help those still stranded at sea, some for two months or longer. "Time is not on their side."
The Rohingya, who are Muslim, have for decades suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which considers them illegal settlers from Bangladesh even though their families have lived there for generations.
Attacks on members of the religious minority, numbering at around 1.3 million, have in the last three years left up to 280 people dead and forced 140,000 others from their homes. They now live under apartheid-like conditions in crowded camps just outside the Rakhine state capital, Sittwe, where they have little access to school or adequate health care.