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Opinion: Shouldering the burden of Asia’s persecuted

Thailand has come in for a deal of criticism after it declined to join Malaysia and Indonesia in setting up camps for Rohingya refugees.

By The Phuket News

Monday 1 June 2015, 11:11AM

The burden of helping Asia's afflicted should not fall on the shoulders of one nation alone. Photo: EU/ECHO/Pierre Prakash

The burden of helping Asia's afflicted should not fall on the shoulders of one nation alone. Photo: EU/ECHO/Pierre Prakash

The morally indignant huffed and puffed that it was Thailand’s humanitarian duty to take the refugees.

But Thailand has stuck to its guns, arguing that first, it has no room to take the refugees (debatable) and that, second, the Rohingya don’t want to come to Thailand. They want to go to Malaysia or Indonesia, Muslim countries.

Critics should look at Thailand’s track record on refugees to see that the country cannot possibly be accused of being uncharitable.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Thailand played host to hundreds of thousands of Cambodian refugees fleeing the murderous terror of the Khmer Rouge regime.

It was decades before people in those camps were found homes in other countries or decided that, with the final defeat of the Khmer Rouge, they felt safe going home again.

Not all of the history of those camps was happy – Thailand did push many refugees back across the border to very uncertain futures.

But the sheer number of refugees put a huge strain on Thailand. So much so that in 1980 the ongoing refugee crisis at the time was perceived as one of the reasons that Gen Kriangsak Chamanand resigned as prime minister.

New Paths Retreat

The last camp finally closed in 1999, 24 years after the first opened.

In the early 1980s, Thailand also experienced a flood of more than 32,000 Laotians across the border. Some were fleeing persecution, but others were economic migrants or draft dodgers. Again, Thailand had to look after them.

In the northwest of the country decades-long fighting has resulted in thousands fleeing over the border into Thailand. A whole generation of Karens has been born and grown up in Thailand.

In 2013, the UNHCR reported that Thailand was still housing nearly 82,000 of them.

Thailand has done its part in looking after refugees from neighbouring countries – more so than Indonesia or Malaysia have ever had to.

If those countries are now willing to take the Rohingyas, and the Rohingyas themselves would rather go to those countries, and Thailand is willing to help them on their way, this seems like an equitable sharing of the burden caused by Myanmar’s still odious regime.



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CT Resident | 01 June 2015 - 14:20:38

Disgusting article claiming that Thailand has done enough in the past especially considering Thailand's other record of people trafficking, prostitution gangs garnering women fro Laos and Cambodia, etc. Nothing in it for Thailand therefore they will do nothing.

Bjay | 01 June 2015 - 13:02:45

A very good well balanced article. You have changed my opinion; thank you. 

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