US urges Myanmar to treat Rohingya as citizens

Recognition of ethnic minority would help solve root cause of the migrant crisis in Southeast Asia, US officials say.

    Myanmar does not recognise its 1.1 million-strong Rohingya minority as citizens [Getty Images]
    Myanmar does not recognise its 1.1 million-strong Rohingya minority as citizens [Getty Images]

    The United States has called on Myanmar's government to treat minority Rohingya Muslims as citizens to solve the root cause of the migrant crisis in Southeast Asia.

    On Wednesday, US Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard also urged all of Myanmar's leaders to speak up on human rights issues.

    Richard's comments reflect those of US President Barack Obama, who said the Rohingya - who have lived in Myanmar for generations - are "as much citizens of Burma as anyone else", referring to the country by its former name. 

    Analysis: Myanmar's attitude to the Rohingya

    Politicians in Myanmar were focused on a historic general election scheduled for November, Richard said, which was hindering political discussion of the status of the Rohingya.

    OPINION: Aung San Suu Kyi's inexcusable silence

    Opposition leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has faced international criticism for failing to speak out on behalf of the nation's many ethnic groups, including the Rohingya.

    "We would love to see all Burmese leaders speak up on human rights and to realise that they should help the Rohingya," she said. "The boats are not going to wait until December - the people on the boats need help right now."

    Richard said that, on a previous visit to Rakhine state, she found "one of the most oppressive atmospheres I've ever travelled in".

    Her comments came as Myanmar's navy escorted a boat crammed with 727 abandoned migrants to the town of Maung-daw in western Rakhine state. Navy commanders have said that they will not take any further action until all the migrants are identified.

    Myanmar landed the boat on Wednesday after keeping the vessel at sea for days, Reuters news agency reported.

    Al Jazeera's Florence Looi, reporting from Yangon, said that Maung-daw is located very close to the Bangladesh border. 

    Persecuted Rohingya Muslims continue to search for refuge

    "The Rakhine state spokesperson said that these people will be given food, water and whatever else they need," Looi reported.

    "There's a whole lack of transparency surrounding how this matter has been handled, and it also seems to suggest an eagerness by the Myanmar government to portray these people - at least the ones found in Myanmar territory - as being economic migrants from Bangladesh," she added.

    Thousands rescued

    Many of the more than 4,000 migrants who have landed in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Myanmar over the past two months are members of the Rohingya ethnic minority who say they are escaping persecution in Myanmar.

    Myanmar does not recognise its 1.1 million-strong Rohingya minority as citizens, rendering them effectively stateless. Many have fled the apartheid-like conditions of the country's Rakhine state. Myanmar denies it discriminates against them.

    Images of desperate people crammed aboard overloaded boats with little food or water has focused international attention on the region's latest migrant crisis, which blew up last month after a Thai crackdown made it too risky for people smugglers to land their human cargo, who were instead abandoned at sea.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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