Wednesday 25 March 2009

Singapore cannot accept Rohingya refugees

 Channel News Asia, 24 March 2009

SINGAPORE: Singapore cannot accept Rohingya refugees should they attempt to land, but would help them depart for another country, a senior government official said on Tuesday.

"Given our limited land and natural resources, Singapore is not in a position to accept persons seeking political asylum or refugee status," said Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Balaji Sadasivan.

"This has been our policy for decades. However, we will assist such persons by providing humanitarian assistance so that they can depart for a third country."

He was responding to a question from Nominated MP Eunice Olsen in Parliament on what will be Singapore's approach if Rohingya refugees flee to the city-state's shores.

Dr Balaji said that the issue was discussed by ASEAN countries at a recent summit in Thailand.

There, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had made it clear that the problem should be addressed at the source and that ASEAN members should not export their problems to one another.

The grouping, said Dr Balaji, will continue to contribute where possible, to the resolution of the issue.

Dr Balaji said: "Among other things, the ASEAN foreign ministers tasked the ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan to work with the Myanmar government to obtain the relevant statistics and information related to the Rohingya population. Such info will help in the formulation of a coordinated response by the various stakeholders."

Previously little known, the plight of the Rohingya refugees hit the headlines earlier this year when Thailand's army allegedly towed hundreds of them out to sea in barges with little food or water.

Dr Balaji also said authorities have not encountered any Rohingya refugees seeking to enter Singapore waters.

Numbering around 800,000 in total, the Rohingyas mostly live in the North Rakhine region of Myanmar. About 300,000 of them have, however, crossed over the border to live in Bangladesh, saying they are persecuted in Myanmar.

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