“We’ve all seen the photographs of these refugees. We’ve seen them hanging their emaciated limbs off the sides of their boats. We’ve seen the scars on their backs, earned in fights over scarce food and water. We’ve read their harrowing stories of their being abandoned at sea, rejected by one government after another.” -Tahmima Anam
India – a host nation of tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees, primarily from 2012 and earlier – has recently hardened its stance, declaring the Rohingya as ‘illegal migrants’ to be deported back to Myanmar. This approach is under challenge in the Supreme Court, but the present government’s broader policies, particularly relating to identity documents for certain foreigners under the law, puts Rohingya lives and dignity at risk.
Rohingya displacement since the Andaman Sea crisis, and the metaphors used to describe it, are a powerful illustration that human rights remains a discourse of the powerful about the powerless – and now is the time for a more inclusive approach.
So far accountability for boat crises in the ASEAN region have been ineffective. It’s time to consider new and even radical approaches that would send a clear message to the world and the region that inaction in the face of hundreds fleeing by boat to seek asylum will not be tolerated.