EU must act following Thai mass grave discovery

Written by Jeroen Lenaers and Marc Tarabella on 26 May 2015 in Opinion
Opinion

Jeroen Lenaers and Marc Tarabella are calling for urgent action to alleviate the suffering of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim people of Myanmar.

The European parliament has adopted a resolution calling on Thai authorities to investigate the discovery of mass graves near human trafficking centres in the south of Thailand.

The resolution urges the leaders of neighbouring countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to provide Rohingya asylum seekers with at least temporary protection and calls on EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini to address the situation "at the highest possible political level".

Thai police discovered 17 abandoned camps which had been used as human trafficking sites, with no exact figures yet available on the number of bodies that have been recovered. The UN estimates that more than 120,00 Rohingya have fled persecution in Myanmar over the last three years.


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Jeroen Lenaers (EPP, NL) is a vice chair of parliament's delegation for relations with the countries of Southeast Asia and the association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN)

While the European Union is actively trying to deal with the refugee crisis at its southern border, another humanitarian crisis has unfolded in Southeast Asia.

In the first week of May, the bodies of at least 30 ethnic Rohingya Muslims were discovered in a suspected human trafficking camp in the Sadao district of Songkhla province, close to the Thai-Malaysian border.

Dozens of refugees killed by their smugglers or abandoned to die of disease and starvation. At the same time thousands of Rohingya refugees, fleeing their home country of Myanmar, became stranded on fragile boats drifting on the waves, trying to reach a new home.

None of the countries where they hoped to find consolation were willing to accept them and in one particular case a boat full of refugees was actually pushed back on the high seas.

This crisis must be solved as quickly as possible and I am pleased to see that the governments of Malaysia and Indonesia took responsibility for the situation and offered shelter, food, water and a temporary asylum status to thousands of refugees in need.

I also welcome the conference organised in Bangkok on 29 May and the EU must insist that all countries in the region, including Myanmar and Bangladesh, participate in this meeting.

However, we must not turn a blind eye to the root cause of these humanitarian dramas: the constant discrimination and persecution of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar. They have been ignored basic rights, such as citizenship, for over 30 years and live in a climate of impunity where discrimination, violence and even murder go unpunished. ]

For a long time even Nobel peace prize winner and opposition leader in Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi, has been silent on this issue. I am happy to see that her party finally expressed support to the Rohingya people by requesting citizenship for them.

This could be a real change in the political landscape in Myanmar and should receive the support of the European Union. Myanmar is developing its economy and is looking to enforce its trade and investment relations with Europe.

This should give the EU the right instruments to strongly encourage a much needed change of policy from the government of Myanmar.


Marc Tarabella (S&D, BE) is a vice chair of parliament's delegation for relations with the countries of Southeast Asia and the association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN)

The recent discovery of mass graves in Thailand shows the full extent of the horrors facing the Rohingya refugee population. Urgent action needs to be taken by the countries of the region to help alleviate the suffering of this persecuted people.

Any lasting solution can only be found as a joint effort of all Southeast Asian countries concerned. We have called on all these countries to provide at least temporary protection to these refugees and increased efforts to tackle the scourge of people trafficking.

At the same time, we call on the government of Burma/Myanmar to put an immediate end to all forms of persecution, harassment and intimidation of the Rohingya in the country, and to solve the problem of their legal status.

The European Union should play a leading role in ending the suffering of the Rohingya through continued humanitarian aid and dialogue with all the concerned nations. We cannot simply let these horrors continue, the time has come to act.

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