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May 18, 2015

5,000 refugees stranded in Bay of Bengal

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Thousands of people who fled persecution and poverty in Myanmar are stranded at sea in Southeast Asia because neighboring countries won’t let them land.

Some of the refugees have been at sea for as long as three months. Bangladesh and Thailand have closed their borders to the group, with nearby Malaysia and Indonesia also reluctant to take them.

Many of the refugees are Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority that numbers approximately 1.3 million in majority-Buddhist Myanmar.

The Myanmar government considers the Rohingya illegally settled. A 1982 law effectively denied Myanmar citizenship to the Rohingya, leaving them without documentation or an official state. They lack access to public schools, humanitarian aid and freedom of movement, and regularly face property seizure and forced labor.

Ten percent of the Rohingya have left Myanmar by boat in the past three years. The refugees often owe money for their trip, making them prey for human traffickers, according to Sarnata Reynolds, senior adviser on human rights at Refugees International.

The Rohingya face discrimination everywhere and can’t find work, she said. “They’re at the bottom of society,” she said. “They have no documentation whatsoever. They are desperate to make any income.”

Human rights groups like Amnesty International have criticized Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya and the UN has called them one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.


Warm up questions
  1. What is a refugee?
  2. What would cause someone to flee their home and their country?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Why do you think the Rohingya are risking detainment and trafficking in order to leave Myanmar?
  2. What should countries like Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia do to address the growing number of refugees?
  3. Is there anything the international community can do to help the situation?
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