Former Asean Secretary General Dr Surin Pitsuwan on Phuket last year
Photo by phuketwan.com/file
By Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian
Thursday, January 10, 2013
PHUKET: Indonesia is interceding in Burma as the Asean partners
desperately try to stem international damage from years of Asean
subterfuge and inaction on the Rohingya issue.
Dr Surin Pitsuwan, who has just retired after five years as Secretary General of the 10-nation group, told Phuketwan today that human rights in Burma was an issue that had to be addressed.
Since the pushbacks from Thailand were exposed in 2009, the word ''Rohingya'' has reverberated around the region.
The covert pushbacks were Thailand's way of dealing with an issue that Burma and its neighbors wanted to hide from the word.
In 2013, with satellite images being used by activist group Human Rights
Watch as evidence of the torching of thousands of Rohingya homes in
Burma's Rakhine state, secrets are more difficult to keep.
Thousands more Rohingya are opting to make the perilous voyage south
rather than ''die in a camp for displaced people,'' as one boatperson
Now that their homes have been burned, the women and children are
fleeing Burma with their menfolk in a crisis generated by decades of
resentment that has openly festered lately into bitter hatred.
The pushbacks were adopted by Thailand as an answer after the 2007-2008
''sailing season'' saw nearly 5000 Rohingya land in Thailand.
Halfway through the 2012-2013 ''sailing season,'' more than 10,000
Rohingya have voyaged past Thailand and thousands more are planning to
flee the same way.
Since Phuketwan revealed on January 1 that women and children are
now fleeing in the boats, a policy swing appears to be underway in
The prospect of women and children being at sea for weeks in open boats
alarmed the Thai Navy personnel and local police who intercepted the
boatload of families off Phuket.
It can be no coincidence that last night's raid took place on an illicit
Thai-Malaysia border camp for the first time, clearly revealing that
children and women are now falling into the hands of the people
We sincerely hope that for Asean and the people smugglers, the days of secrecy and profit are at an end.
With the illegal trade now on overload, alternatives have to be found,
and urgently. There is no doubt that the only permanent solution has to
come from inside Burma.
Dr Surin acknowledged this today when he said that he believed steps had
to be taken swiftly to recognise Rohingya families who had been living
in Burma for generations.
Being a just-retired diplomat, he said that the process of recognition required time.
But with more women and children taking to the Rohingya boats each day, time is running short. Burma must act.