Commercial shipping may have a role in helping solve the plight of Rohingya fleeing Myanmar, a leading NGO source has said.
“There’s a conversation that needs to be made,” Humanitarian Policy Group research associate Lilianne Fan told IHS Maritime after the issue was discussed at a meeting in Bangkok.
“It has been talked about in the Mediterranean. It is starting to happen,” Fan added.
Rohingya, a Muslim minority in northern Myanmar, are fleeing their homeland in thousands as political repression worsens.
Many try to get to Malaysia or Indonesia on converted fishing boats operated by ruthless but highly profitable smuggling syndicates, the meeting heard.
The situation flared last month when mass graves were found in southern Thailand, a transit point for many of the cartels.
Currently many boats are still at sea, but are prevented from landing by the Indonesian, Malaysian, and Thai navies who give limited humanitarian assistance, but have sometimes towed boats back into international waters.
The one bright spot, according to Fan, is fishing communities in Aceh, who help boats, some of which are carrying up to 500 people, to land safely.
“That’s actually the only effective search and rescue operation we have” Fan said at the meeting.
Calling the current situation an “absolute failure”, Fan was critical of the region’s government reluctance to put resources towards solving the problem despite agreements on laws of the sea and co-operation on disasters.
She also reported some regional governments, especially Malaysia, were angry with Myanmar and that they feel non-intervention limits possible solutions to the problem.