“A refugee is a person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country.”1951 Geneva Convention
In the last week, there have been heart-breaking scenes of emaciated men, women and children reaching up to catch bottles of water thrown by journalists who had found them in the open seas off Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.
These people are fleeing in makeshift vessels on rough seas towards countries such as Malaysia and Thailand in Asia. Braving daunting conditions, some were fortunate to land on shores, but many perished along the way, their boats capsizing or forcibly sunk. Those successful to have landed on ground have been threatened with deportation or worse — a life in a refugee camp.
Just who are these desperate people, so fraught with terror that they would risk their lives, their loved ones and all their worldly possessions and set off on such a perilous journey? They happen to be the Rohingya people of Burma, legitimate citizens of the country and who have been rejected by their own Buddhist countrymen.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has expressed support for Thailand's plan to hold a regional meeting in Bangkok on May 29 to address the Rohingya migration problem. During a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-chan, Mr Ban praised the meeting as a significant initiative to seek international cooperation to solve the growing crisis, a member of the government spokesman's team, Maj Gen Weerachon Sukhontapatipak, said.
Mr Ban said Rohingya migrants should be accorded the human dignity and basic rights they deserve.
Senior officials from 15 countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Australia, the United States, as well as international organisations, are likely to attend the one-day meeting. Myanmar has suggested it may not attend.
Mr Ban clearly mentioned the term ‘Rohingya migration’ or ‘Rohingya migrants’. Most of the International media, in their recent reports, also mentioned as Rohingya migrants. Now the question is, is it true that thousands of members of the Rohingya who are now adrift in the Andaman Sea, are really migrants? Or they are refugees?