Phillipines Offer Hope To Thousands Of Refugees

Photo: CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/Getty Images.
One nation is stepping up to help the Rohingya refugees who fled internment camps in boats that now sit off the Southeast Asian coast. The Philippine government announced Tuesday that it would provide shelter and food, and that it is the country's moral obligation to help those in need.

Paolo Aquino, a senator, said in a statement Tuesday, "Let us not fall short of providing humanitarian relief and assistance that is asked of us, as we pride ourselves to be a compassionate and hospitable people," Al Jazeera reported. Neighboring Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia are turning away boats full of an ethnic minority group fleeing Myanmar and Bangladesh — leaving them stuck at sea with nowhere to go.

More than 25,000 Rohingya refugees, members of a Muslim ethnic minority that have been persecuted and moved into internment camps in recent years, have taken to the sea this year in search of safety and security. This week, governments in nearby countries had to decide what to do as boats full of men, women, and children reached shore. Tragically, instead of giving them shelter, they opted to resupply the boats and send them back.

Where are they coming from? While the Burmese government denies that the refugees are coming from Myanmar, Rohingya have lived in unimaginably bleak camps since 2012 after a bout of ethnic violence and upheaval that led the Buddhist majority to send them into camps. Human rights groups have called the violence ethnic cleansing; many Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations, but the government does not recognize them as citizens. About 200,000 Rohingya also live in Bangladesh, but things are dire there, too.

Off the coast of Thailand, refugees sat for a week on a boat, hoping in vain to be allowed into the country. As nations have cracked down on human smuggling, the refugees have become more desperate. But, according to a statement from a United Nations official, they probably have no choice. "The conditions in Muslim IDP camps are abysmal, and I received heart-breaking testimonies from Rohingya people telling me they had only two options: stay and die or leave by boat,” Yanghee Lee said in March.

What happens next? Refugees aren't going to stop trying to escape their camps for a better life, and smugglers will continue to traffic them across borders until prospects improve in their home country.

This post was originally published on May 15, 2015. It was updated on May 19.
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