Somewhere between 6,000 and 20,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are drifting in the Andaman Sea while neighbouring countries take turns to deny them entry.
“What we have now is a game of maritime Ping-Pong,” Joe Lowry, of the International Organization for Migration in Bangkok, told the New York Times. “It’s maritime Ping-Pong with human life. What’s the endgame? I don’t want to be too overdramatic, but if these people aren’t treated and brought to shore soon, we are going to have a boat full of corpses.”
Why are they fleeing? “It’s a combination of things,” says one observer. “Their lives have become worse and worse.”
One reason is probably old-fashioned population control. The parliament of Burma (officially known as the Union of Myanmar) recently passed a new “population control” bill that could represent a serious setback for the country’s maternal health advances if implemented in a coercive or discriminatory manner, according to Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).
The bill, which introduces the practice of “birth spacing” or a three-year interval for women between child births, is expected to be signed by President Thein Sein in the near future.
Although the bill seems designed to implement the Millennium Development Goals, which will expire in 2015, it could easily be used as a tool to oppress Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, especially the Muslim Rohingyas in the north.
Regional authorities will be able to impose population policies if population growth, accelerating birth rates, or rising infant or maternal mortality rates are negatively impacting regional development. According to The Irrawaddy newspaper, an “imbalance between population and resources, low socio-economic indicators and regional food insufficiency because of internal migration” are also reasons to invoke the law.
David Mathieson, of Human Rights Watch, told The Irrawaddy that “The worrying undercurrent of the law, especially stemming from the 2012 violence in Rakhine [Arakan] State and the dreadful government commission report that was produced, seems to be measures aimed at reducing the Muslim population count and the Rohingya population in particular.”
The Population Control Bill is one of four bills known as the “Race and Religion Protection Laws.” The other three would ban polygamy; create administrative hurdles to a spouse’s religious conversion; and require that couples in an interfaith relationship seek permission to marry from local authorities. They all seem aimed at the Rohingya minority.
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