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Boatpeople boys aged 14 and 15 vanished after landing in Thailand

Phuket NY Countdown: The Saddest Story

Sunday, December 23, 2012
Countdown to 2013: The Region's Big Story

PHUKET: Given Thailand's relative peace and freedom for once from natural or man-made disasters, the biggest story of the year in the Phuket region was Burma.

The country's gradual move to democracy - or at least to embrace capitalism for the obvious benefit of its elite - was overshadowed by disturbing ethnic cleansing in Rakhine state, where thousands of Rohingya were burned from their homes.

Phuketwan well remembers the pushbacks of Rohingya boatpeople from Thailand in 2008-9. So we should - we broke the news that it was happening to the world.

What occurred in Burma in 2012 was really just a more widespread public exposure of the simmering racism within Burma and the enduring lack of concern in neighboring countries.

One of the most widely-read articles of the year at Phuketwan was our accusation in a recent news analysis that Singapore doesn't have a heart. We said that because Singapore refused entry to a Vietnamese cargo ship carrying 40 Rohingya, men and boys, rescued from a shipwreck.

We take no pleasure in saying these things, but it happens to be true. Singapore is perhaps the prime example among the 10 members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations of a selfish outlook when it comes to all matters of principle.

For many years now, Singapore has also provided a safe refuge for Burma's generals and their ill-gotten fortunes, and we don't believe that has changed, or is likely to change.

Singapore and human rights cannot be mentioned in the same sentence because where Singapore is concerned, money matters. People and principles do not.

Perhaps as a result of Singapore's successful example of rolling down the path to prosperity via selfishness, other countries also use the excuse that the Rohingya are not their problem, even when boatpeople land on their beaches.

Around the region beyond Asean, India and Bangladesh also reject responsibility. When Phuketwan asked a visiting Indian admiral earlier this year about the Rohingya, he appeared to turn blue and almost choked. An aide stepped in to say: ''That's not our problem.''

In Thailand and Malaysia, in Singapore and even in Indonesia, the travails of the boatpeople continue to be played down or even hushed up by governments who lack the courage or the commitment to speak out.

We tried to track a boatload of Rohingya who came ashore north of Phuket a few weeks ago. Most of the 112 on the boat were young men or boys, some aged only 14 or 15.

The Rohingya are stateless and denied citizenship in Burma so it was with sorrowful irony that Thai officials labelled them as ''Burmese'' simply to speed their passage back to the border and into the arms of people traffickers.

President Barack Obama's visit to Burma and his bid to open Burma's eyes to its own imperfections was a noble attempt to right this regional wrong.

But his fine words were clearly lost on Burma, on Singapore and on the other nations of the region.

They have the power to support change, but choose instead to not lift a finger - except perhaps in a gesture of defiance to the more caring world.

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As we know most the the Asean countries are quite large physically, Singapore on the other hand is tiny and a City State about the size of Phuket and has about 4million permanent people and has 6m often. Phuket's estimated population is 0.5million. If the matter was down to land area alone Singapore would have the strongest argument not to take the few on the ship as they would then worry there would be many more arrivals. The irony here in that the largest economic power and by far the largest physically and a MUSLIM country Indonesia does not seem keen to take them according to your earlier report. The country is about 2630 times as large as Singapore, attack them, not a small country like Singapore.

Posted by Happy Farang on December 23, 2012 18:59

Editor Comment:

The size of the country has nothing to do with compassion, Happy Farang. Do you seriously beleive Singapore doesn't have emergency accommodation for 40 people? The problem is the size of Singapore's heart. It's about the same size as your brain.

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The Singapore government does not care about its own working class and would never care about anyone else. Shame on the Singapore government.
I think this was called Asian values by our old friend doctor M.

Posted by Mr hoy on December 23, 2012 22:35

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They should stay in Burma if they want democracy, because that country will likely get democracy a long time before Thailand ever will, and the totalitarian champagne communist state Singapore has never enjoyed anything close to democracy.

Posted by Democrat on December 24, 2012 05:20

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Agree completely with the article, though have to say the editor's "attack" on Happy Farang was completely unnecessary. Could have left the last sentence out.

Posted by J on December 24, 2012 10:45

Editor Comment:

Anyone who thinks the religion of a shipwreck survivor is the most significant fact deserves a last sentence, J.


Tuesday December 23, 2014
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa

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