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Rohingya Refugees Rejected by Singapore

This post is part of our special coverage Myanmar's Rohingya.

After being adrift at sea for more than 30 hours, 40 Rohingya refugees were rescued by a Vietnamese ship, MV Nosco Victory, on December 5, 2012. A few days after, the ship reached Singapore but the government refused entry to the Rohingya survivors. Singapore netizens and human rights groups reacted strongly to the decision of authorities to send away the refugees.

Maruah reminds the government to treat distressed people humanely:

Government ministers have touched on values emerging as a major strand in the Our Singapore Conversation; what then is the value being espoused by the Singapore Government, when it implicitly advocates that the Rohingya should have been left at sea? How would we want ships to treat Singaporeans stranded at sea?

Singaporeans have clearly articulated a desire for Singapore to become a more humane and compassionate society. The way that we treat distressed people fleeing genocide seems a good place to start.

A Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh near the border of Myanmar. Photo by auniket Copyright@Demotix (10/15/2012)

The Singapore Democratic Partythinks the right decision was to give temporary shelter to the Rohingya:

It was wrong to turn them away as they were in need of food and medical help. The right thing to do would be to afford them temporary shelter and to ensure their physical safety. The refugees can then be repatriated at a later time.

Singaporeans are a compassionate people and the Government representing us should not be cold and cruel, one that calculates everything in material terms.

Where Bears Roam Free accuses the government of being ‘heartless’:

For all the effort S'pore has made to gain first world status, this incident shames Singapore to the core. We have a heartless govt. Just 40 people and we can't shelter them temporarily? Forget about the argument “more will come”. That argument means that you are willing to allow 40 to die because you are not confident you can take more.

Limpeh debunks the government arguments for rejecting the Rohingya:

…when you are fleeing genocide or war, you just run and go wherever you can get to, it's not the same as economic migrants shopping around for a nice place to work. Even if it means simply allowing desperate refugees temporary shelter whilst waiting for transit to a third country willing to take refugees, that means simply offering them shelter for a few weeks or months – is that too much to ask?

There is a long and heated exchange of opinion on Facebook about the issue:

Eng Patrick my heart will weep with joy seeing their happiness knowing somebody cares. i feel singapore can house them for a period of time while they seek a permanent home elsewhere. sad to see them turned away.

Cedric Koh They are a persecuted minority in their homeland.If we don't help them, their entire race, their culture,their ways of life, will be extinct, and what we are doing equates to sending them to their own deaths.

D-jin Toh By not helping them we are not saying we are condoning anything. By not helping them, we are saying we will not help them, nothing more. There are millions of refugees worldwide, by not helping them, does that mean that for all these years we have condoned war, slavery, violence, genocide etc.?

One last thing, I am not against helping these people, but I am against letting them in. Give them some food and water, then sending them on their way to another country would be the better choice in my opinion.

Frankie Png There many countries which are huge with own resources cannot even accept them. We have no resources and land, how can we open our doors. Giving them food and medicines which is already a generosity for a small island with 8 million people. This is so hard to please, humanity or sustainability?

Desparatebeep is disappointed with the politicians who sent away the refugees:

Perhaps the politicians are seeing something that I don’t see here but who we show compassion to seem grossly wrong. When Westerners who have been screwed out of their homes decide to turn on the bankers who screwed them, we rush to show compassion to the bankers. When people flee being imminent slaughter, we decide that they’re not worthy of our compassion. Not sure where the logic in that comes from.

A Singapore twitter user is also saddened by the decision of the government:

@chotemiya3 If the reports of Singapore turning away the ship carrying Rohingya refugees are true, then i am truly ashamed to call myself a Singaporean.

Rohingya is an ethnic group which is struggling for recognition in Myanmar. But the government of Myanmar continues to refuse to grant citizenship rights to Rohingya residents. Local conflicts erupted this year involving Rakhine and Rohingya villagers in Western Myanmar. The government has denied that the Rohingyas are victims of genocide and religious persecution.

Fortunately, Malaysia agreed to give shelter to the 40 Rohingya refugees.

  • disqus_qEUBUAvvV1

    It does make sense for the ship to be calling on SIngapore port. What is temporary shelter? The intention is crystal clear when these “refugee” chose Singapore over the nearest ports. These people are for Myanmar and the native country to settle. SGP is too small a country to take care of them, as it is, the place is over-populated.

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  • Winnie Wong

    I do sympathise with the Rohingya deeply. However as a Singaporean, I support Singapore decision to not accept their entry. from political point of view, it makes sense. Singapore already got its issues of high immigrant rates and shortage of land. By letting first group in, it is setting the precedents for the next groups. When will it end? Furthermore shelter may be temporary, but it is also a fact that most other countries do not take this group in.

    • Winnie Wong

      May I also add that Singapore turned them away with supplies of food. Hence it is unfair to call Singapore heartless.

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