Help the boat people

The following editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on May 20:

It would be easy to think that the situation of the 4,000 Asian migrants on rickety boats near the Myanmar-Bangladesh coast is comparable to those seeking to cross the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa to Southern Europe.

In both cases these are people who are trying to escape poverty or persecution, victimized by human traffickers and risking death by drowning. The places they are hoping to reach do not welcome them. Most of them have few skills, are illiterate and are hard to absorb.

But some of the circumstances of the Asians are different from those of the Africans or Middle Easterners seeking to reach Europe. Most of those arriving in Italy, France, Greece and Spain embarked from Libya. Since the 2011 overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi, Libya has been in a state of chaos. It has no authority that can be held responsible for the migrant ships or for the criminals who trade in the transit of people.

In Asia, the two countries that are the source of the migrants are Bangladesh and Myanmar. Although both are poor, they have functioning governments.

These countries and Thailand, which is also involved in the migrant “trade,” can and should be held responsible for the dispatch of these vulnerable men, women and children from their shores.

The matter is worse in Myanmar, the origin of the Rohingyas, about half of the migrants. They are a persecuted Muslim minority seeking to leave a majority Buddhist country and the discrimination they have suffered for centuries.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand are not accepting their responsibilities to take the migrants ashore. On May 19 the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration called on them to provide rescue operations and stop pushing boats back from their waters.

Bangladesh and Myanmar are making matters worse by not preventing the exodus of migrants and the shameful trade in their misery.

All five countries must do their part. If not, the rest of the world, including the United States, needs to apply pressure, first by denying them tourism.