NLD Wades Into Boatpeople Crisis

By The Irrawaddy 1 June 2015

RANGOON — The National League for Democracy (NLD) released a statement on Monday addressing the so-called boatpeople crisis unfolding in Southeast Asian seas, with Burma’s main opposition party urging a crackdown on human traffickers while warning that “the slower we are in taking actions, the bigger the problem will become.”

The NLD press release comes as the party’s leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has faced international criticism for her silence on the plight of Muslims in Arakan State who identify themselves as Rohingya.

“The National League for Democracy (NLD) and the chairperson herself have reiterated that human rights, democratic rights and rule of law must be heeded, and words and behaviors that would fuel the conflicts must be avoided in resolving racial conflicts in Rakhine [Arakan] State,” the statement read, offering a seven-point roadmap to ease tensions between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims in the state.

Its recommendations include border security, rooting out corruption among border affairs personnel and delivery of humanitarian aid to those in need.

“Declarations have been made about the problems in Rakhine State, but it is just not enough,” the statement read.

Last month thousands of migrants from Burma and Bangladesh began washing up on the shores of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. Their boats were abandoned by human traffickers who feared a crackdown on the smuggling of persons, leaving them stuck at sea for weeks with dwindling supplies of food and water. Thousands more are possibly still at sea, with 17 nations attending a meeting in Bangkok on Friday to attempt to address the issue.

Burma’s Foreign Ministry representative to the conference reportedly warned against “finger-pointing” in addressing the crisis.

The Burma Navy has so far seized two boats filled with migrants. The first contained 200 Bangladeshis and eight people from Burma, while the second was found with 727 people on board. The government says it plans to deport the 200 Bangladeshis, while the fate of those on board the second boat remained unclear on Monday.

Many of those taking to boats in search of better lives are believed to be Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Burma. Three points in the NLD statement were aimed at addressing conditions in Arakan State where most Rohingya live, with the party urging speedy resettlement for people in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), socioeconomic development of those living in the camps and to scrutinize the citizenship claims of Rohingya “fairly and openly” as soon as possible.

The statement did not use the word Rohingya in referring to those found at sea from Burma, nor did it use the government’s preferred term, “Bengali,” which implies that they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.