Phuket Opinion: Stateless visitors need more than hospitality

27 January 2013

PHUKET: The plight of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine State during the current sailing season clearly shows the need for Asean and other international bodies to come together to help solve, or at least alleviate, the root causes of the problem inside Myanmar as soon as possible.
This will of course be no easy task. Few international humanitarian issues on the planet have a more confounding range of underlying problems, dating back to colonial times, than those of the Rohingya. These people have faced a long history of official persecution inside Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which steadfastly refuses to accept the Muslim Rohingya as its citizens and effectively leaves them stateless – illegal immigrants in a land many have occupied for generations.
In a perfect world, statelessness might seem an attractive situation: no immigration hassles, no taxes, the list goes on. It’s not hard to imagine the many benefits that might accrue from being able to fly completely undetected under the nose of “Big Brother”. But in our highly imperfect world, the reality of statelessness is a living nightmare few of us can imagine: no freedom of movement, no legal way to make a living or gain a basic education, and none of the most basic rights that so many of us take for granted. This might be something forPhuket Gazette readers to consider next time they are complaining about the need to make a “visa run” or reporting in at Immigration every 90 days.
Worst of all, statelessness is the most vicious of spirals. Children of stateless people are almost always doomed to the same fate, as the path to citizenship invariably involves a considerable paper trail that starts with proving the citizenship of one or both parents.
Of course the Rohingya don’t have a monopoly on statelessness. Here in Phuket they make up only a small fraction of the number of stateless people living on the island. Some Rohingya eke out a living selling roti,while others find work down by the docks in Rassada. Whatever their numbers, they are no doubt dwarfed compared to other stateless Burmese, many of whom were born and raised on the island, are fluent in Thai and have never known any other home.
Yet here in Phuket, the authorities cannot even come up with a reliable estimate of their numbers. Thebusiness community, at least, appreciates the vast riches many of its members have accrued as a result of the backbreaking work of the Burmese.
In addition to international humanitarian organizations, the Gazette calls on international Muslim organizations and their member states to do more to help the Rohingya, perhaps by setting up a quota system to help absorb some of these people into their own nations and cultures.
To enable this, the Thai government must allow access to these asylum seekers by representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

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