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Indian silence on humanitarian crisis in neighbouring Burma: Human Rights Watch plea to regional govts to support UN effort

By Our Representative
Human Rights Watch (HRW), the influential US-based elite NGO which supports large number of civil society organizations across the world, has asked South Asian countries, including India, to "work with the United Nations and others" to bring about a "binding solution" to a major humanitarian crisis caused by Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma on dangerous boats to escape persecution. India shares 1,624-km-long border with Burma, but is silent on what is happening next door.
The HRW's plea comes close on heels of criticism by India's keen media watchers over the failure to notice total indifference towards Rohingiyas, who have fled to several countries down south, especially Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. HRW's statement has been addressed to the proposed meeting of governments at Bangkok on May 29, 2015, to discuss the Southeast Asia boat people's crisis.
India has so far refrained to make any statement on the major humanitarian crisis, in which people are being detained, extorted, and abused, with mass graves found in recent weeks along the borders of Thailand and Malaysia, where they have fled. There was no reference to any initiative from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who recently visited China, Mongolia and South Korea, on this count, say critics.
The meeting, called jointly by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has been named "Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean". Representatives from 17 countries, of the region, including India, will participate. The meeting will also discuss Bangladeshi nationals similarly fleeing the country in the recent past.
“Regional governments should work with the UN and others to agree on binding solutions to this human tragedy – not sweep it under the rug as they have done for years,” said Brad Adams, Asia director, HRW. “The ending of human rights abuses in the source countries of Burma and Bangladesh needs to be matched by Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, with support from other countries."
HRW said, "Over the past 15 months, international agencies estimate that as many as 88,000 men, women, and children have traveled from Bangladesh and Burma in boats to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Many of these are Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Burma, although a significant number are also Bangladeshi nationals."
"Most have traveled in boats to Thailand, where they are then transported overland into jungle camps in Thailand and Malaysia. The camps are used as holding facilities in which victims are detained, extorted, and abused, with mass graves found in recent weeks on both sides of the border of Thailand and Malaysia", HRW says.
The top US NGO wanted participating governments to particularly prioritize "urgent need for search and rescue – now and in the future", adding, they "should accept international offers to provide search and rescue support and seek ways to better coordinate search and rescue efforts, share intelligence, and pool resources."
They should also ensure "unimpeded and unconditional access by UNHCR and IOM to rescued boat people", HRW said, adding, "Transparent, impartial, and professional assessments of individuals who arrive on land or are rescued at sea are needed to determine who is entitled to refugee protection, who should receive services as a trafficking victim, and how appropriate services should be delivered."
It said, "UNHCR should be permitted to exercise its mandate in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia – none of which are parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention – to screen boat arrivals for refugee status and other protection needs. These governments should abide by UNHCR refugee status determinations and scrupulously ensure that refugees and asylum seekers are not forcibly returned to persecution or other serious harm."
HRW insisted, the participating countries should exert pressure on Burma, with whom India shares a long border, "as the main source of the problem", even as calling on Burmese officials to "immediately end the repressive measures and denial of basic rights that have driven Rohingya to flee their native Arakan (Rakhine) state over many years."
Finally, the participating countries should "exert pressure on Bangladesh to stop its pushback policy and end its persecution of Rohingya", said HRW, adding, "The Bangladesh government should cease its own publicly acknowledged policy of engaging in pushbacks of Rohingya to Arakan state and recognize them as refugees deserving protection and support services."

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