The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has expressed its stance on the Rohingya “boat people” issue that Singapore will not be accepting refugees or people seeking political asylum.
“As a small country with limited land, Singapore is not in a position to accept any persons seeking political asylum or refugee status, regardless of their ethnicity or place of origin,” said an MHA spokesperson, in response to queries from local news channel, Channel NewsAsia.
Reuters reports that while nearly 800 migrants on one boat were brought ashore after fishermen rescued them from their sinking boat off Aceh province in Indonesia on Friday, other boats crammed full of people were turned away.
“According to initial information we got from them, they were pushed away by the Malaysian navy to the border of Indonesian waters,” said Sunarya, police chief in the city of Langsa where the migrants arrived.
Video by NY Times on the Rohingya “boat people”
Most of the people on the overcrowded and unseaworthy boats are thought to belong to the 1.3 million-strong Rohingya minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Others are believed to be from Bangladesh.
The Rohingya practice a blend of Sunni and Sufi Islam. They have lived in Burma for centuries, but in 1982, the then military ruler Ne Win stripped them of their citizenship . Thousands fled to Bangladesh where they live in pitiful camps.
Despite earlier efforts by the United Nations, the vast majority of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are unable to return due to the 2012 communal violence and fear of persecution.
More than 1,000 migrants have also landed in Malaysia.
Such refusals underline “the hardening of Southeast Asia governments’ stance on the boatloads of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar,” Reuters says.
Human Rights Watch condemned Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia for playing a deadly game of “human ping pong” in refusing to allow more dangerously overladen boats carrying thousands fleeing poverty and persecution to land on their shores.
As the United Nations warned of a “massive humanitarian disaster”, as migrants were believed to be abandoned at sea by smugglers scared off by Thailand’s recent crackdown on human traffickers.
However, there have been few signs that Southeast Asian nations are collaborating to avert a humanitarian crisis
On 5 December 2012, 40 men who are believed to be minority Muslim Rohingya refugees from Rakhine state were rescued by a Vietnamese cargo ship after their vessel sank in Burmese waters, reportedly drowning 160 others.
Singaporean authorities denied the ship entry to its harbour and said those rescued did not appear to be “persons eligible to enter Singapore”. The shipwreck survivors were eventually picked up by Malaysian authorities.