Myanmar refugees posing more problems for ASEAN countries

Updated On: Apr 28, 2006

A new wave of refugees at the door step of Indonesia and Thailand in two separate incidents displays another sign of deteriorating situation in Myanmar.

A group of 77 boat people from Myanmar ran aground on an Indonesian island near Aceh earlier this week while trying to get to Malaysia in search of jobs.Indonesia will not grant the group asylum but will supply them with provisions before sending back off.

“Their original purpose was seeking employment in Malaysia, not Indonesia. After the weather clears, they will continue their journey to Malaysia with the same boat,” said W. Septiawan from the Indonesian immigration office in provincial capital Banda Aceh.

The United Nations have also commented that there are thousands of asylum seekers from Myanmar in Malaysia but it is rare for them to request asylum from Indonesia as political asylum is a sensitive issue in Indonesia especially after the incident where 42 Papua political refugees received temporary visas from Australia.

According to Colonel Aswoto Saranang, the boatpeople are ethnic Muslim Rohingyas from Myanmar’s Arakan state. “They said back home its hard to make a living and to find a job, so they decided to leave their country for a better life,” he added.

In 1992, more than 20,000 Rohingyas, about a third of their population fled over Myanmar’s border into Bangladesh, accusing the military regime of persecution. About 20,000 remain in two refugee camps while others are living in surrounding area (Antara news, 25 April).

In another incident, a group of 2,000 ragtag Wa villagers from Myanmar arrived in northern Thailand in trucks from a region along the Myanmar-Chinese border. The United Wa State Army (UWSA) is a nominally pro-Rangoon outfit that operates independently in an autonomous region in the Myanmar sector of the Golden Triangle. The forced relocation is part of an ambitious plan to end opium cultivation by the 20,000 strong UWSA.

“We are concerned with the arrival of Wa peasants and the expansion of the UWSA. We will continue to monitor development,” said a senior narcotic officer. Thai officials view the expansion as a potential security threat from past experiences of shootouts between Wa troops and Thai security forces.

Since 1999, some 60,000 peasants living in the UWSA’s Special Region (SR2) near the Chinese border have resettled in newly built towns near Thailand’s northern border. The resettlement came to a halt in early 2005 because of intense fighting between the UWSA and the rebel Shan State Army (SSA). Rangoon claims that the SSA acts as a Thai proxy. The clashes lasted for eight weeks and ended in the deaths of hundreds of Wa and Shan soldiers whose bodies were scattered along the rugged foothills that zigzag across the Thai-Burmese border (The Nation, 26 April).

In another sign of the hardening of their stance, the military junta also threatened to dissolve the pro-democracy party of Aung San Suu Kyi for alleged links with illegal organizations.


Indonesia to expel 77 boat people from Myanmar stranded on island in Aceh province (Malaysia Star, 26 April 2006)

‘No asylum’ for 77 Myanmar refugees (The Straits Times, 26 April 2006)

Myanmar boatpeople to leave Indonesia’s Aceh soon (Reuters, 26 April 2006)

Myanmar Muslim Migrants stranded on Indonesian Island (Antara News, 25 April 2006)

Wave of refugees shows weakness in Wa army (The Nation, 26 April 2006)

Junta threatens to dissolve Suu Kyi’s democratic party (The Straits Times, 27 April 2006)