“I boarded the boat because I had nowhere else to go. I don’t have a home or anything left. The Rakhine killed my mother and my relatives. The people in the village said they were going to Malaysia, so I made the decision to follow them.”
This quote is from a woman on a boat densely packed with starving people out in the Andaman Sea. Her words are plain, encapsulating misery beyond one’s imagination. The scene is, on the other hand, in one word, “horrific”, something no person with any shred of conscience would ever stand to see.
It is a boat where no human being in this world should ever end up. It is the kind of human tragedy with which any soul in this world would be challenged.
This woman is one of the members of a minority community who has been denied citizenship and voting rights by a country where generations of her family had lived in for centuries. Let alone having any civil rights, this community has been for many years persecuted by a regime that denies them any freedom and, above all, the dignity that every human being deserves in this world.
If you are someone not even remotely interested in the world news, you are probably by now familiar with these people, the Rohingya Muslims. During WWII, this Muslim community fought alongside the British Army against the Japanese, making them a hated community in Myanmar. Now their grandchildren - women, little children, men and the elderly – are forced to embark on a gruesome journey to look for a homeland for themselves. Contrary to any voyage we know of in our conflict-free world, these people have no luggage, no food or water, and in most cases, even no clothes to cover themselves.
Imagine yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere under desperate conditions with no friends or relatives from your life in your home country. Even hard to imagine in one’s worst nightmare!
However, with no rights of any kind and, more importantly, no hope for future in their own homeland, they, as a last resort, clamber on to a rickety boat, taking the risk of death.
With their vessels marooned out on the high seas by human traffickers and various navies cracking down on them, the ordeal they’ve gone through is unparalleled by any means. Their boats, “floating coffins” as they are called, are a reference to their horrendous situation.
According to the UN, the Rohingya Muslims are one of the “most persecuted minorities” in the world. Now the situation has turned into the most ferocious form of human tragedy with the stance of the neighboring ASEAN countries bordering the Adaman Sea. Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have simply refused to accept these adrift people into their countries as refugees. Their navies simply provided some provisions of food and water and then pushed them out to the open sea.
Now that the world media has devoted space to the stories of these most helpless people, the international community is savvy about the existence of the Rohingya Muslims and their desperate situation. Yet the efforts of other countries, who should be sharing the spirit of humanity, have been so far very feeble, devoid of the strength that any conscience requires.
After weeks of not welcoming thousands of migrants stranded at sea, with Indonesia and Malaysia ultimately offering temporary shelter – and rather reluctantly at that - it seems that some solutions are on the horizon. However this crisis has demonstrated something far more important; that this is not some isolated crisis that a minority group in one part of the world is going through, but rather a crisis of humanity.
The Rohingya boat tragedy is an indelible blotch on humanity. It is a human rights debacle. It is the manifestation of the moral bankruptcy of the human conscience and must be analyzed and pondered upon if we would like to create a world where every child has access to the same freedoms we desire for our own children.
In the case of the Rohingya Muslims, the neighboring countries’ concerns about taking care of the refugees can be overcome quite easily. Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand are countries with vast lands and coastal areas. The refugees can be introduced to a lifestyle where they can earn their living by fishing, agriculture or animal husbandry without being a burden on the host countries. Such a stance is what is more becoming to humanity, something that we most need in these times of ordeal.
This is a crisis that reveals how some lives are valued and appreciated while others are totally ignored. Human beings, no matter which race, nation, religion, ethnicity or tribe they may be from, are the core element of this world. All commercial, political, industrial, and artistic activities are carried out in this world because of human beings. The reason why this world exists and why it was created are ‘human beings’. So everyone must enjoy the dignity and freedom they deserve as a human being. Once this scrupulous perspective is adopted by any politician or leader, any impaired morals would be purged at once, and thoroughgoing solutions will follow.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Tehran Times & Burma Times: