U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday called on Burma to end discrimination against the ethnic Rohingya. He told a gathering of Asian leaders at the White House in Washington, D.C., that there’s no question that the ethnic group is being treated unfairly, and that protecting their minorities will be an important measure of the success of their transition from a military dictatorship to democracy.
“We were talking earlier about what’s required for Myanmar to succeed. I think one of the most important things is to put an end to discrimination against people because of what they look like or what their faith is, and 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 would 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.”
Burma has come under harsh criticism for its treatment of Rohingya, more than 100,000 of whom have fled persecution and poverty in Arakan State since 2012. Burma denies discriminating against the Rohingya.
Currently, more than 700 migrants are being held offshore on an overcrowded boat in the Andaman Sea by Burma’s navy. Obama said the U.S. will try to resettle all those who are stranded and commended countries that have stepped up to help.
“Right now obviously, our focus is on making sure that those who are being subject to human trafficking and are in some cases right now are still in a very perilous situation out in the open sea that they are relocated. I want to commend Indonesia and Malaysia.”
Burma says the Rohingya are illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, and denied during a 17-nation meeting on the crisis in Bangkok last week that it was to blame for a crisis that has seen more than 4,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi “boat people” arrive across Southeast Asia in recent weeks.