South-east Asia migrant crisis: Gambia offers to resettle all Rohingya refugees

Gambia says it will take all Rohingya refugees as part of its “sacred duty” to alleviate the suffering of fellow Muslims flooding south-east Asia to escape oppression.

The government of the impoverished west African nation asked countries of the region to send them and it will set them up in refugee camps.

“The government of the Gambia notes with grave concern the inhumane condition of the Rohingya people of Myanmar – especially those referred to as ‘boat people’ –currently drifting in the seas off the coast of Malaysia and Indonesia,” it said on Wednesday.

“As human beings, more so fellow Muslims, it is a sacred duty to help alleviate the untold hardships and sufferings fellow human beings are confronted with.”

The statement appealed to the international community to send tents, bedding, household materials and medicine to help the Muslim-majority Gambia set up “habitable camps with decent sanitary conditions”.

The US has also said it would help in resettlement.

A State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said the US would take a leading role in any multi-country effort, organized by the United Nations refugee agency.

“I think the Malaysians and the Indonesians have requested some help resettling people. We’re taking a careful look at the proposal,” Harf said. “It has to be a multi-country effort. We obviously can’t take this all on ourselves. But we are prepared to play a leading role in this effort.”

The announcement came after the foreign affairs ministers of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand – facing global criticism for turning away rickety boats packed with starving people – gathered for talks.

After appeals by the UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, and the US government last week for the migrants to be rescued, Pope Francis likened the plight of the Rohingya to that of Christian and ethnic Yazidi people brutalized by the Islamic State (Isis).

Nearly 3,000 people have already swum to shore or been rescued off Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand over the past 10 days after a Thai crackdown disrupted long-established smuggling routes, prompting some of the gangs responsible to abandon their human cargo at sea.

On Tuesday the UN’s refugee agency said it had received reports that at least 2,000 migrants had been stranded for weeks on boats off the Myanmar-Bangladesh coasts.

The Gambian government’s position on the Rohingya contrasts sharply with the professed disdain of its president, Yahya Jammeh, for the thousands of African migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

The Gambian president, Yahya Jammeh.
The Gambian president, Yahya Jammeh. Photograph: Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images

More than 5,000 migrants, many from Gambia and its neighbours, have died in the past 18 months trying to get to Europe.

Jammeh broke his public silence on the issue last week, saying in a televised address that “if these people are true Muslims ... they should equally believe that their sons and daughters could have made it at home if they were ready to invest and work”.

He did not announce any proposals for solving the Mediterranean crisis but suggested that the kind of work migrants were undertaking in Europe was available in Gambia.

Jammeh, an outspoken military officer and former wrestler, has ruled the former British colony with an iron fist since seizing power in 1994.

The regime is frequently berated for human rights abuses, extra-judicial killings, torture and the muzzling of journalists.

A third of the population in the tiny nation survives on $1.25 or less a day, according to the UN’s 2013 human development report.


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