New Boat People Crisis

According to Thailand’s foreign minister the number of migrants in the Indian Ocean has reached an “alarming level.” Migrants desperately fleeing their home countries have been landing on the shores of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. During the past month, over 3,000 people have been rescued by fishermen or have washed ashore, and the UN estimates that several thousand more are still be at sea, abandoned by human smugglers.

Friday, during the opening of an Asean conference in Bangkok aimed at tackling the issue, Thai Foreign Minister Thanasak Patimaprakorn called for governments in the region to address the root causes of the crisis. Both he and the UN singled out Burma, also known as Myanmar, as the country most responsible for the situation.

Most of the migrants are Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burmese persecution, while many others are economic migrants from Bangladesh seeking job in other countries.

At the conference, Htin Linn, the head of the Myanmar delegation, refused to accept any responsibility, while in Yangon, Burma’s largest city, over three hundred protesters, including scores of extremist Buddhist monks, took to the streets to deny that the boat people are Rohingya Muslims. Demonstrators wore shirts and held signs with messages such as “Boat People are not Myanmar, Stop Blaming Myanmar” and “There is no Rohingya in Myanmar.”

Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi, London, 2012 (Photo:Jeremy Russell/OHHDL)
Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi, London, 2012 (Photo:Jeremy Russell/OHHDL)

Meanwhile in an interview before a visit to Australia next week with The Australian newspaper, the Dalai Lama urged fellow a Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to speak out: “It’s very sad . . . I met her two times, first in London and then the Czech Republic. I mentioned this problem and she told me she found some difficulties, that things were not simple but very complicated. But in spite of that I feel she can do something.”

Suu Kyi’s silence on the issue has disappointed many of her admirers around the world.

I would hope that if the Dalai Lama, as head of a Mahayana Buddhist sect, feels confident about pressing Suu Kyi, a follower of Theravada Buddhism, to take some action, he would also feel confident about calling on Theravadins in Burma and Sri Lanka to do something about the Buddhist extremism on the rise in both of those countries.

In an article published Thursday at Tricycle, the Buddhist magazine, Theravada Buddhism’s Muslim Problem, Iselin Frydenlund, a researcher at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo and the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), and Susan Hayward, Interim Director of the Religion and Peace building program at the United States Institute of Peace, wrote that the problem “requires an intra-Buddhist debate on Buddhist principles, religious pluralism, and human rights.” They also maintain that joint statements crafted at local summits between Buddhist and Muslims “carry far more weight than any human rights group’s condemnation of the role of religious leaders in creating intolerance and mistrust.”

This may be true, but joint condemnation or at least some rather loud vocalization from fellow Buddhists would carry some weight as well. In my opinion, Buddhists worldwide have been far too quiet.


3 thoughts on “New Boat People Crisis

  1. – Everyone is buddha, but not everyone is real buddhist. –

    Everybody has the same compassionate buddha nature, so everyone is buddha. Calling themselves as buddhist, doesn’t means that they are the true followers of Buddha and practicing what Buddha taught in their daily life.

    Buddhism is a way of life to promo Peace, Compassion (Humanity) & Wisdom.

    Buddha is a great peace maker, a discoverer and follower of the universal law of “Cause & Effect”. Even a child knows that it is impossible to change the way of how nature works, e.g. Four seasons, birth, aging, illness & death. If you do not know how to work with the nature law, you suffer.

    Thus, the focus of Buddhism is always on “Education”, since Buddha’s time, Buddhism has never stop to help people to have the “Right Understanding” of how nature & life works. As Buddha said, all of our wrong doings are due to our “Wrong Understanding” (ignorance) which is the main cause of all sufferings, including endless reborn.

    Not just Buddhist, as a human, I believe we should help each other regardless to the label of “religion” or “nationality” without force and violence.

    Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace. -Buddha-
    Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by Metta (Loving Kindness); this is the eternal law. -Buddha-

    1. Thank you, Ying, for sharing these words. You mention an important point about “Education.” Traditionally, Westerners, especially scholars, have like to describe Buddhism as either a psychology or religion, but education is probably closer to it. Interestingly, one of the definitions of education is “an enlightening experience.”

    2. Nicely written, captures the essence very well, thanks for sharing.

      To describe Buddhism, the word that resonated more with me is “Learning”. It implies one is actively transforming. . I know this is just semantics, but the differences (as explained in that link) are very important – particularly when it comes to “Buddhism”.

      It is unfortunate that most of the masses in buddhist countries do not fully learn/grasp buddha’s teachings.

      They fail to see that cause-and-effect is not just external , but internal too. The human mind is nature itself, and everything the “mind” does has a consequence. The concept of “Karma” captures this very well.

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