More than 300 Rohingya refugees are missing somewhere in the Andaman sea. Their boat was last seen on Saturday, May 16th when the Thai navy towed it away from Thailand towards Indonesia. It had previously been batted back and forth across the maritime border between Malaysia and Thailand; with neither country’s government willing to let the refugees land.
They are part of a mass exodus of Burmese Rohingya, fleeing ethnic violence and political repression aboard rickety wooden boats. But a recent crackdown by regional authorities has upped the risk to the smugglers who pilot the boats, leading them to abandon the refugees at sea. Thousands of people are now stranded, floating somewhere in the waters of Southeast Asia with rapidly dwindling food and water supplies.
None of Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia are parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which would obligate them to protect refugees on their territory. (Not that the obligation necessarily prevents governments from pushing boats full of desperate refugees out of their waters. Ahem, Australia.) They’ve also all already taken in hundreds of Rohingya, and apparently feel that they’ve done enough.
Amid high level regional talks about how to handle the crisis, the Philippine government announced today that it was willing to help. It may already be too late for the people aboard the missing boat.