This is a terrible time – again. A headline today calls the wave of refugees fleeing Syria the worst refugee crisis since World War II. There are lots of contenders for that questionable rank. But without doing more than mention a couple or three close to home we can agree we need to reassess our humanity in the light of how we are responding as moral inhabitants of this small blue marble on the edge of the Milky Way Galaxy at the fringes of the universe.
My awakening from dreamland into a wide-awake nightmare was when reports began filtering back to safe, happy America about horrible things happening to Vietnamese boat people in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea in 1975. The atrocities were being perpetrated, the reports insisted, by the Thai fishing fleet with assistance from unbelievable sources. I refused to believe it. It did not fit my extended experience living here in Thailand from 1965-1969. Then came the Pol Pot decimation and the wave of refugees on top of the Hmong and Lao desperate to escape and the Karen and other refugees from Burma. Thailand looked like it might be inundated.
Thai reaction to influxes of homeless and stateless people has varied. In some cases the newcomers were allowed to move in and gradually assimilated as in the case of the “Chin Haw” (remnants of the Kuomintang Nationalist Chinese forces defeated by Mao in 1949 and 1950). In other cases they were quickly hurried on their way to resettlement abroad. In some cases, the Khmer in particular, resettlement took more time as third country arrangements were made. And in a large number of cases refugee camps became home for a second and now a third generation born and raised there in confinement, waiting for the situation to settle down back in Burma so they can be “repatriated”, whatever that can possibly mean.
Now there are two new refugee crises here in the Land of Smiles. As with all the previous people movements these have nothing to do with Thailand except that the people are moving through here. That is another way of saying Thailand has nothing to do with these people unless it wants to. Apparently it does not want to have anything to do with them; (“them”, being the Rohingya refugees leaving Burma and the Uighur trying to get out of China and into Turkey.) Since some readers of this essay may be unfamiliar with the Rohingya (mentioned earlier in the year in www.kendobson.asia/blog/rohingya) or the Uighur I will summarize. The Rohingya are being persecuted in Burma where they have lived as officially stateless people, unclaimed by Bangladesh or Burma. Now there is a radical Buddhist movement to get rid of them from Burma. They have tried to relocate onto swampy land south of Yangon and they have taken to boats where they are stranded on the sea, enslaved, trafficked, trapped and scores have been killed. Large mass graves have been found on the Thai Malaysian border. The Uighur are Muslims in Northwest China left over from the Mogul Empire. They would prefer to live elsewhere now, and a group of them were discovered trying to get through Thailand onto transportation to Turkey, but they were found out and their situation was called “trafficking” by the Thai military government when China wanted them back. Muslims in Turkey stormed the Thai honorary consul general in Istanbul on July 8 when the Uighur were summarily shipped back to China. The protests moved closer to Thailand, it turns out, when a bomb exploded in Bangkok at the Erawan Shrine killing 20 people and injuring 130 on August 14 including, perhaps not coincidentally, several Chinese tourists. The bomber may have been caught trying to escape to Turkey through Cambodia. Lo and behold, the “traffickers” are the same for both the Rohingya and the Uighur. I will not be surprised to hear the military government praise itself for breaking up the trafficking ring. The police department has already claimed the million baht reward for solving the bombing case. Why think about a trial at all?
But what about the refugees? What about the little boy dead on the beach in this week’s gut-wrenching icon? What about the 12,000 Icelandic families who want to provide hostage to the Syrian refugees, even though the government of Iceland has offered sanctuary for just 50? What about the Hungarian riot that tried to prevent the Syrian refugees from getting onto a train to Germany? What about Donald Trump’s American Presidential campaign promise to ship back all Mexican “illegals” and the idea of building a huge wall to isolate the USA (presumably since dragging the “homeland” out into the ocean seems impractical)? What about the Australian government’s detention and humiliation of refugees offshore?
What about these desperate human beings?
What about the humanitarian values of our governments and our people?
I say just assimilate these people, bring them home. Every one of our lands is a land of refugees. Some just arrived longer ago than others. I know one other thing as an amateur historian and professional theologian: we will be held accountable for how we respond to these refugees. They may be undergoing tribulation, but we are on trial.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.