SHAFAQNA – The fate of thousands of Asian refugees — Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Burma — now rests with Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
This after a deal was reached at an emergency conference in Kuala Lumpur.
The desperation of the destitute refugees has had little effect on Indonesian and Malaysian authorities, who have been turning away ships approaching their shores.
Those who survived endured starvation, illness and squalor on the boats.
The three countries have been pressured to accommodate the refugees for a year, until they are re-settled with the help of the international community.
This solution is obviously only temporary.
Indeed, the apathy of the international community to what has been happening is appalling, including that of Muslim nations that have been asked to settle their Rohingya co-religionists fleeing Burma.
These are some of the most desperate people on earth.
Burma is mainly to blame for the fact its minority Rohingya Muslim community remains stateless in the face of violence and poverty.
The slow response of Burma’s most famous human rights activist, Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, is especially worrying.
Only recently has she spoken out against restrictions on the Rohingya.
Meanwhile, Indonesia has refused any search and rescue operations for ships lost at sea.
Thousands of lives may be lost as a result, but the intransigence of the Indonesian authorities persists.
The Rohingya are a people the world would prefer to forget.
While the BBC has covered the story regularly, news coverage in Canada has been scant.
If Canada is to do anything substantial to help these abandoned refugees, better awareness would be a good start.
Perhaps then Canadians would chip in and help financially, as they have with victims of the Nepal earthquake.
Unlike that, the Rohingya disaster is man-made, but no less real for the victims.
It may be too much to expect that Burma would alleviate the root causes of the migration by extending citizenship to the Rohingya, and by punishing those who suppress them.
The prejudices against them run deep.
Plus, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia cannot be expected to bear all of the settlement burden just because their shores happen to be where most of these ships are headed.
India, too, can help, as can other Asian countries.
Assistance from the developed world must be mainly financial.
It’s not enough to condemn the slow response of the three countries where the refugees are arriving.
The U.S. State Department has demanded that lives be saved, but where are American ships?
While the international community works on immediate assistance, it must also offer permanent settlement to the Rohingya.
The largest international body of Islamic nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), must do more than pay token visits to beleaguered Rohingya settlements.
Muslim nations have a special responsibility to open their doors to accommodate these desperate people, yet there is little outcry in the Muslim world.
It appears the only oppression of Muslims that Muslims will shout about is in Palestine, and that the only suppression of Muslim identity that will make them burn flags is trivial and Western.
The OIC has shown in the past it has the zeal to express outrage; why not now?
The Rohingya tragedy is about more than just the refugees in these rickety boats, and it is more than a Muslim problem.
It is yet another human catastrophe which we can all do something to alleviate.