Expect further Rohingya exodus, report warns

An Asean parliamentarian group has warned of the imminent exodus of boatloads of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and urged regional governments to adopt a collective response to the potential crisis.

Increasingly desperate conditions at home, coupled with a bleak political outlook, force the Rohingya to flee the country by boat to other parts of South-east Asia during the "sailing season", which usually begins later this month.

A crackdown on human trafficking networks in Thailand in April - which sparked a regional crisis - does not appear to have put them off from searching for better lives elsewhere. "The next wave of refugees is coming," noted the report titled Disenfranchisement And Desperation In Myanmar's Rakhine State. It was authored by Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) after two fact-finding missions to Myanmar this year. "Tens of thousands of Rohingya have already fled by sea, but nearly a million more are still undergoing heavy persecution through Rakhine state."

Speaking at the report's launch in Bangkok, APHR chairman and Malaysian lawmaker Charles Santiago demanded that Asean puts pressure on Myanmar to address the dire conditions under which the Rohingya live, and also prepare a regional asylum framework. "The Rohingya problem or the Myanmar problem has become an Asean dilemma. It is challenging Asean's way of working… the notion of non-intervention," he said.

Between 800,000 and 1.1 million Rohingya live primarily in western Myanmar's Rakhine state. But Myanmar does not recognise them as one of its ethnic groups and instead refers to them as "Bengalis".

Next month's election is unlikely to change anything, said the report, as many Rohingya and other Muslim candidates have been excluded, while hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have lost their voting rights.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2015, with the headline 'Expect further Rohingya exodus, report warns'. Print Edition | Subscribe