THE thought that came to my mind was about mothers and children and their safety after I read the news on the number of “boat people” slipping out of their own country.
People in a community in west Myanmar called Rohingya are denied citizenship where they live. Even though they’ve been born in this country and lived for generations in what the community calls home, almost as Burmese as all others in the multi-ethnic country, 800,000 of them are subject to forced labor and travel restrictions, hardly anyone has any health care, and the chance for education.
So, they’ve been fleeing for months to look for a friendly place and to escape sectarian violence and persecution.
The United Nations says that these people, the Rohingya, are the most persecuted minority on earth, stateless even though they were born and grew up in Myanmar. In worse cases, the families are broken up—the men to the detention camps, women and children locked up
in shelters, or aboard small boats.
And the condition of the Rohingya has something to do with Buddhist-Muslim tensions. At least this is the way outsiders see, the UN looking in. But some Burmese officials insist that the tension has nothing much to do with religion but with politics.
It was last week when 121 Muslim Rohingya in a boat arrived in the Indonesian coast of Aceh. But there have been other boats that left and spanned the sea in that part of the world with the Rohingya in search of new homes.
Last year, there were attacks which killed hundreds of Rohingya, 100,000 with no home, no future. Just last week, angry Buddhists hit a Muslim community where they threw bricks at shops and at a school.
You would jump into a boat, no matter how rickety, to save your family, if you could.
I can imagine the number of women and children in the boats that flee the junta-ruled country which is supposed to be “on the road to democracy.” In a situation like this, how are the Rohingya mothers doing?
The news I read can give us an idea of how life is to the persecuted boat people, through the picture of women and children getting into a wobbly boat which would travel for weeks or months in the hope of finding temporary homes not just in the coast of Malaysia but also in Indonesia, Thailand, even Australia.
Muslim Malaysia allows the boat people into the country but they’re not Malaysian citizens and can’t have healthcare, education, not even jobs like in normal living.
In the AFP news was mentioned a young woman on her 9th month of pregnancy who joined the exodus. Six days on the water to Malaysia (or wherever they would be allowed to land), the woman gave birth.
The mother told the reporter that her house was burned down, the family (with the father in detention or dead?) had no shelter, no job. It was when her baby was a month old that she was interviewed, this time in a government shelter for 70 Rohingya in southern Thailand where the boat found land.
Clean and safe water which the boat people bring along run out, food doesn’t last, either. The children get sick of diarrhea, vomiting worms from their stomach. Like everybody else, they drink sea water. One of the most terrifying sicknesses of the boat people is dehydration and starvation, with 90 people dying during a recent 2-month journey on a smugglers’ boat.
The problem is rather complicated, which is really religion-oriented, no matter how Myanmar spokesmen put it, saying it’s ethnicity, not religion. It’s a strange situation to any of Filipino communities where there is no religious inequity. No such thing as a Buddhist mob attacking a Muslim village because, there was a new mosque being built.
It’s a small community problem with an international concern. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees will take up the boat people problem in a conference this month, “to find out ways and means of curbing irregular movement of people by sea.”
In our land, mothers and children are safe. And they haven’t heard of boat people.