(Part of The Darkness Visible series)
(Rohingya Boats Off Bangladesh)
For decades now the Rohingya boats have made attempt after attempt to leave Myanmar by sea. These rickety vessels are far from seaworthy and often packed with more people than they can hold. But the threat of death at home in Burma drives the ethnic minority to flee in the only way left available to them. Thus the exodus by sea begins once again.
An estimated 24,000 Rohingya currently call Malaysia home. These Muslim refugees that have fled to Malaysia did not walk across the border. The trip takes a departure from Myanmar under the cover of darkness or in rough seas. Just getting out to sea can be deadly. Then comes the long voyage from Myanmar to Malaysia over open water. And finally, if they are fortunate enough, the survivors try to land in Malaysia without the police or military spotting them first.
Many Rohingya who try to stop in Thailand due to lack of water, food, or potential sinking are turned back to the open sea. Thai naval ships and police often drag the Rohingya's boats back out to open water where they are abandoned to the elements. Bangladesh will do the same if they are given the opportunity.
This leaves the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Rohingya few options. They can either risk being killed by the ruthless Rakhine mobs or risk their lives gambling with Neptune. Many are choosing the god of the sea over the god of war.
On October 31st this daring escape from Burma proved just how risky it really is. Around 130 Rohingya refugees perished in the darkness somewhere in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Bangladesh. The governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh did nothing to recover the bodies or try to look for survivors. It was clear to all those who followed the story that the two governments looked at the deaths as a gift rather than a tragedy.
This trip into the darkness can cost a Rohingya refugee the equivalent of $1,500 United States dollars. Yet not surprisingly many young Rohingya find the money by saving everything and selling off all they have. They are leaving in these boats with nothing. They are going committing an international crime to be free. And in the end it is predicted that around half of them will never survive the journey.
Some will perish as the boats succumb to the violent sea itself. Others will die of disease and dehydration as their boats loose power or go off course. Some will suffer at the hands of those who the paid to get them out of the country. But for a many the promise of a better life will keep them alive as they struggle to get out of Myanmar.
(Rohingya In Burmese Town Of Sittwe)
All of this risk could be taken away. All this needless death could be stopped. And all this suffering could be ended. All the Rohingya need is an ally within the regime of Myanmar's "democratic" movement.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been given the opportunity to speak up on the behalf of the Rohingya people. Her voice could go beyond the limitations left upon Western governments and organizations by the Burmese authorities. Yet the game of politics has left the Nobel laureate silent. Her lack of desire to speak up and help the Rohingya is directly linked to her political ambitions in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi has found that even she, a supposed humanitarian, can not speak up for the Muslims in Burma and still keep favor with the racist Buddhist of Myanmar. And thus political gain keeps even the seemingly noble Suu Kyi silent while her countrymen suffer.
For this reason it is likely that more and more Rohingya will perish at sea as they try to escape the ethnic cleansing taking place in Myanmar. For the lack of courage on the part of Burmese leaders and the Western nations thousands will die beneath the waves of the Indian Ocean. It leaves me to wonder just how many deaths it will take before we can finally stop playing politics and start trying to stop genocide.