A top Burmese politician has warned UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and international organisations against “creating misconceptions against Myanmar (Burma)” when speaking about the ongoing migrant crisis in the region.
Lower House speaker Thura U Shwe Mann wrote a letter addressed to the UN chief dated June 3, stating: “In addressing the issues of human trafficking and boat people, we would request that national and international organisations exercise great care to avoid creating misconceptions about our country and and aggravating communal tensions and conflict.”
He added that the “characteristics of its [Burma’s] nationalities should be kept in mind.”
The comment follows sharp criticism from the international community and human rights groups of Burma’s persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state. Tens of thousands are believed to be living in squalid camps without basic services, while thousands more have fled the country. Burma refuses to recognise their rights as citizens.
Thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants have come ashore in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia in recent weeks, with thousands more believed to be trapped at sea on rickety boats.
Speaking at an event in Vietnam last month, the UN chief said: “It’s important to save human lives,” adding that it’s important “not to send them back to a dangerous circumstance or situation.”
Burma refused to take responsibility for the crisis at a regional meeting held in Bangkok last month to deal with the situation. Foreign ministry chief Htin Lynn said “this issue of illegal migration of boat people, you cannot single out my country.
“Finger-pointing will not serve any purpose. It will take us nowhere.”
He said Burma (Myanmar) would cooperate with international efforts to alleviate the crisis, though his comments appeared to be a direct rebuke to the opening statement of UNHCR’s Volker Turk.
Turk had earlier called for action from Burma in stemming the flow of migrants, saying it “will require full assumption of responsibility by Myanmar to all its people”.
U.S. President Barack Obama weighed in on the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Burma this week. Speaking at a ‘town hall’ event Tuesday, he said: “The Rohingya have been discriminated against significantly, and that’s part of the reason they’re fleeing.
“I think if I were a Rohingya, I would want to stay where I was born. I’d want to stay in the land where my parents had lived. But I’d want to make sure that my government was protecting me, and that people were treating me fairly. That’s what I’d want. And that’s why it’s so important I think, as part of the democratic transition, to take very seriously this issue of how the Rohingya are treated.”