More than a hundred Buddhist nationalists took to the streets of Rangoon on Wednesday to vent their ire at the international community for pressuring Burma to accommodate Rohingya boat people.
Organisers of the march, which included extremist monks from the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, commonly known by its Burmese acronym Ma-Ba-Tha, said they sought to highlight the bias of the West, the UN and the international media towards Rohingya Muslims, and wanted to defuse pressure on Naypyidaw to grant citizenship to the 1.3-million-strong community.
They said they timed their demonstration to precede a meeting in Bangkok scheduled for Friday aimed at resolving a crisis involving thousands of ‘boat people’ – Rohingya and Bangladeshi asylum seekers and migrants who are stranded on ships in the Andaman Sea.
“Mainly, we would like to highlight that the boat people are not from Burma and demand the international community to stop shoving them into our country,” said organiser Thar Wa. “We are also demanding that they cease claiming that the Bengalis [Rohingya], who never existed in the 2,200 years of Burmese history, are an ethnic group of this country.”
Another prominent participant, Sayadaw Wimala, an abbot from the Linkarama Monastery in Rangoon, said simply: “I am joining the protest because I love our race and religion.”
Many of the demonstrators aired their grievances via t-shirts and banners. At least 60 of the marchers wore shirts emblazoned with the slogan: “Boat people are not Myanmar”. Typical banners read: “Myanmar not for illegal immigrants”; “We are under attack by terrorist so-called boat people”; “UN was not establish to bully small nations”; and “Bangalis, go back to Bangladesh where they [sic] belong!”
The Burmese navy last week intercepted a ship with 208 migrants on board, all of whom, except eight, it says, are Bangladeshi and are currently being sheltered ahead of repatriation.
Crisis talks in Bangkok on Friday are directed at finding solutions to the waves of economic migrants and asylum seekers taking to the high seas from western Burma and Bangladesh, often in abysmal conditions on rickety boats run by unscrupulous traffickers.
The plight of the migrants came to international attention recently when a series of mass graves were found at the Thai-Malaysian border containing the remains of more than a hundred trafficked migrants.