YANGON, Myanmar – Navy ships were scouring Southeast Asian waters for boats believed to be carrying thousands of migrants with little food or water, and a top U.S. diplomat said Myanmar needs to shoulder some responsibility for the crisis. That’s something it has been reluctant to do.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Friday that Rohingya Muslims fleeing the predominantly Buddhist nation were risking perilous journeys and putting their lives in the hands of human traffickers because “they are in despair and don’t see a future” at home.
They have been denied citizenship and chased off their land in the latest bout of ethnic violence that left them with little access to education, medical care or freedom to move around.
The persecution has sent them fleeing to neighboring Southeast Asian countries, but recently the exodus has erupted into a humanitarian crisis. Because of arrests after a crackdown on human trafficking networks, captains have started abandoning boats that were packed with Rohingya Muslims, as well as Bangladeshis escaping poverty.
More than 3,600 migrants have washed ashore in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand since May 10, and thousands more are believed to be trapped at sea. The United Nations has warned that time is running out to save them.
“The root of the problem for those leaving Myanmar is the political and social situation on the ground,” Blinken said at a news conference in Yangon.