THE European Parliament has called on the Burmese authorities to
change their policy towards the Rohingya people, to "take all
necessary measures to end persecution of, and discrimination
against, the Rohingya minority", and to "give Rohingyas equal
access to Burmese citizenship."
In a joint motion proposed by all seven political groups in the
Parliament, MEPs demanded that the Thai government holds
"immediate, full, and credible criminal investigations into the
mass graves of Rohingya Muslims", and for those responsible to be
brought to justice. They also demanded an end to "any complicity
with the criminal gangs trafficking Rohingya people and other
migrants in Thailand."
Moving the debate, the Italian MEP Ignazio Corrao described the
Rohingya people as "the most persecuted minority in the world", and
said that "the surrounding countries would all be happier were they
to simply disappear from the face of the earth."
Rohingya people who reach southern Thailand are at risk of
"concealed camps" where "refugees are tortured, and made to phone
up their families to demand ransoms," the German MEP Barbara
Lochbihler, one of the co-authors of the motion, said. Thailand,
and other neighbouring countries had to take action to ensure that
the "slave-like exploitation" of the Rohingyas was stopped, she
The London Conservative MEP Charles Tannock welcomed the offer
from the President of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, to grant permanent
refugee status to all Rohingya refugees; but said that "the only
long-term solution is to end the factors leading to [their]
"We should do much more to press for changes in Burma-Myanmar as
it seeks to open up its markets and seek EU aid and
The Yorkshire and Humber MEP Amjad Bashir, who defected from
UKIP to the Conservatives in January, said that recent news was a
"testament to Myanmar's human-rights record", and was "unworthy of
a nation seeking to be part of the international community. Firm
action needs to be taken until Myanmar takes action to allow
minorities to come out of the Middle Ages and into the 21st
He also demanded that Myanmar's neighbours "meet their
obligations under international maritime law to rescue the
The London Green MEP Jean Lambert described the treatment of the
Rohingyas as "a form of ethnic cleansing". The Rohingya people, she
said, "need the state's permission to marry and to have children.
They have no protection from sectarian violence, and they have been
victims of state violence and persecution. It is no wonder that
many have sought sanctuary across borders where they face further
risks of being persecuted."
Responding to the debate for the European Commission, the
Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos
Stylianides, said that the plight of the Rohingya refugees was
"very painful for all of us".
He said that the EU was watching "the unfolding humanitarian
crisis" with "great concern", and called for "urgent action from
all the countries involved, in line with their obligations and
international human rights standards."
He continued: "One of the root causes is the status and worth of
the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, and the under-development of
Rakhine state, where most Rohingyas originate. This needs to be
urgently addressed by the government of Myanmar.
"Only an improvement of the overall human-rights situation,
including the status of the Rohingyas, can put an end to the exodus
of this minority, which has been going on for a number of years,
and which has recently increased dramatically."
The international Anglican mission agency supporting those who
work on the sea, Mission to Seafarers (MTS), called on more to be
done to support fishermen and other merchant sailors who are often
involved in rescuing migrants from unseaworthy boats.
"All of the focus of public scrutiny and debate is, of course,
about the plight of the poor exploited migrants - men, women, and
children who are paying a terrible price for their attempts to get
to freedom and safety," the agency's director of justice and public
affairs, the Revd Canon Ken Peters, said.
"They are the tragic victims of war, religious persecution, and
heart-breaking brutality. This leads them to make such pitiful,
desperate deals with criminal gangs, who are running
people-trafficking rackets along the coasts of war-torn states,
particularly from Libya, and more recently from Burma.
"Yet, in the background of these crises, there are hundreds of
merchant seafarers whose moral and legal duty is to intervene in
human tragedies at sea, and attempt rescues, in the absence of
coastguard and naval intervention. Seafarers put lives first.
However, this, too, comes at great risk to their personal safety,
and indeed to their mental well-being.
"The Mission to Seafarers is working with seafarers who have
been so traumatised by major incidents of shipping disasters
involving great loss of human lives, that they need our help and
support with post-traumatic stress counselling.
"The perilous predicament of seafarers should be emphasised,
because without them many more lives will be lost. The world
expects so much of seafarers in these rescue operations, but
doesn't give them a thought in terms of the danger that this places
Canon Peters made his comments as MTS joined two other
international maritime-welfare organisations in a joint statement
which drew attention to the 40,000 migrant lives saved by merchant
seamen, on 800 ships, during 2014. "Their role in the large-scale
rescue of migrants should be recognised and commended," they said
in their statement.
"However, EU governments are still relying on the kindness of
seafarers and the legal obligations upon them to cope with a human
tragedy of an unprecedented scale, instead of committing sufficient
resources to save migrants' lives. Merchant ships and crews are not
equipped or trained to deal with large-scale rescues."
On Wednesday, MEPs discussed the European Commission's recent
proposals for a common migration policy and a system of relocation
of asylum-seekers, with compulsory quotas for member states. The
European Parliament had called for such a system for a number of
years, but it has been rejected by the European Council.
The Commission has long sought to introduce a common migration
policy in the face of opposition from the heads of government. The
Commission's latest proposals were published as its response to the
Mediterranean migration crisis, and goes further than the heads of
government agreed at their summit last month.
The Commission's proposals were welcomed by most MEPs, including
the Green's London MEP Jean Lambert, who said that she was "really,
really upset that my own country is not willing to participate, and
not willing to step up on this occasion".
The Labour London MEP Claude Moraes also welcomed the
Commission's proposals, saying that the Parliament should "turn its
fire" on the Council for making the "tough choices on resettlement"
a low political priority.
But the Conservative MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, Timothy
Kirkhope, a former immigration minister in Westminster, criticised
the Commission for covering two types of migration in its
proposals. "Economic migration and asylum are two different issues,
with separate challenges, and this joint strategy blurs lines which
should be clear," he said.
Mr Kirkhope also rejected the key proposals for migrants to be
distributed around EU countries based on a compulsory quota system.
"We have a moral duty to assist one another, but I do not believe
this assistance should undermine the key principle of international
asylum law, that an individual should be able to seek sanctuary in
the first safe country reached," he said.
"True solidarity is offering assistance because it is the right
thing to do, not through compulsion. I do not believe that quotas
and forced relocation is sustainable, democratic, or fair to the
individuals in question."
He said that the Conservative Government's approach to
immigration was about "mixing humanitarian responses with
responsibility and security."
Nigel Farage, who was mocked in the debate by other MEPs for his
short-lived resignation after the General Election, said that the
Commission's proposals should be replaced with an Australian-style
points system, "so that we can choose who comes to live, work, and
settle in our countries".
In an earlier debate, Mr Farage had said that the so-called
Islamic State would use the Mediterranean migration crisis to send
"half a million jihadis" to Europe. "I was laughed out. People said
I had no evidence for it," he said. "But now even the Libyan
intelligence agencies are saying that ISIS are not only making
money from transporting people, but they are beginning to directly
send us their terrorists.
"We have to have a rethink. We can't allow our compassion to
imperil our security."