Rohingya refugees are not a Thai problem, because heaven knows we are not equipped to handle it. Rather, it should be a problem for Asean, if not the world. After all, when you look past skin colour, religion and nationality (or lack thereof) of these unfortunate folks, they are just human beings looking for a home.
There are two relevant issues here: the first is the allegation that there are corrupt Thai police and military officials who are complicit in the sale of these refugees to human traffickers; the second is that nobody actually wants these refugees other than human traffickers.
If the allegations of complicity among police and military officials prove true, then it is a Thai problem. No one can help us but ourselves. Given the image of Thai officials, however, I don't expect anyone to gasp in disbelief and cry out in surprise if the allegations prove true.
Shock and surprise would probably also be absent if the investigation proves to be mere window-dressing that at best unearths a couple of low-level sacrificial lambs. Then it's back to business, and life goes on. It is well acknowledged that the police are servants of politicians and members of the military are servants to their generals rather than to the Thai people.
So what chance do the Rohingya have? They aren't even Thais.
Scepticism aside - and I would very much welcome being proven wrong - but even if there's no human trafficking by Thai officials, Rohingya refugees would still be unwanted and homeless. This is simply because, as a nation, we are not equipped to even help our own, let alone strangers from foreign soils. According to the CIA World Factbook, by 2009, 8.1% of the Thai population lived below the poverty line. Most members of six major hill tribes - Akha, Lahu, Karen, Hmong/Miao, Mien/Yao and Lisu - have no national identity and live as subsistence farmers, marginalised and exploited. The same can be said of the sea gypsy population, not to mention the children begging on the streets.
These are Thai nationals, our own children, and those minority tribes who have lived here for centuries may not have the right papers, but it's a shame that we aren't equipped to help them either. How then are we to help Rohingya refugees?
That we are not equipped to help either our own marginalised people or refugees is not due to a lack of resources. Thailand is a middle-income country, one for which Forbes magazine deemed it worthy to make a list of the 40 richest Thais. This is a country where politicians are millionaires and billionaires. This is a country where we just recently launched the ever so hi-so Siam Centre Ideopolis and where first world luxuries can be had for developing world prices. This is a country where the military and the police are business corporations in and of themselves.
No, Thailand is not lacking in resources to help the marginalised and the exploited whether they are Thais, hill tribe minorities or Rohingya refugees. We don't simply because we don't care enough. This, however, does not make us unique.
The Americans build fences along their borders. The Europeans lament over the end of Western civilisation because of Muslim immigrants. Other Asean members don't want Rohingya refugees any more than we do. Each country in this region has its own ethnic and minority issues, not to mention their own populations living below the poverty line.
There was a time when Thailand and other countries around the world would take in refugees with open arms, or at least could be forced or bribed to open up. Those days are long gone. Now we just ship them off or, as alleged, sell them to human traffickers for a nice profit. Other countries can groan and moan, crying injustice and inhumanity, but they are not going to take Rohingya refugees in either, are they?
Countries are willing to take in exiled dictators, despots on the run, monarchs on the move and billionaire fugitives, but not poor Rohingya refugees.
I'm no hypocrite, but even though I have a spare bedroom, I don't plan on taking in any refugees either. Would you?
The Rohingya have been described as "one of the world's most persecuted minorities". They have also been described as "one of the world's least wanted" _ note that it's the world and not just Thailand that doesn't want them. However, we are the only ones accused of selling them to human traffickers.
Governments and human rights organisations will cry that they need help and a home. Activists and journalists will write soul-stirring articles saying that they need help and a home. Everyone will then point to everyone else and say that they are not doing enough. At the end of it we all pat ourselves on the back, feeling good that by crying and moaning we have done our bit for humanity _ come next week and a new issue, this one will be forgotten.
Hence the world rotates round and round as the human saga continues, sometimes in great glory, other times in horrible tragedy, but most of the time in ironic comedy.
Meanwhile, these refugees will stare at a "help wanted" sign in some illegal sweat shop or field of slavery somewhere where they will be forced to make a home that makes a Thai detention camp resemble a five-star luxury hotel.
Strip these unfortunate people of skin colour, religion and nationality (or lack thereof), and they are just human beings trying to find and make a home, one that is safe and has economic opportunities so that they can feed their family _ in short, the things that any of us would want.
The problem is they are not actually like "us". Poor, dark and Muslim even _ who wants them?
I can write a soul-stirring, tear-jerking and vomit-inducing column, begging and pleading out of a love for humanity. Save the Rohingya, please, save them. We must unite and lend our hands.
But then, I have a spare bedroom and a comfortable lifestyle, and I'm not inviting any refugee into my home, Rohingya or otherwise; would you? So we'll just settle for the vomit-inducing, then.
Rohingya refugees are not really the problem. They are not a Thai problem, nor are they an Asean problem nor a world problem. The world is the problem. A thousand years ago and 1,000 years from now, there has never been and never will be a place for them in a spare bedroom, except perhaps in the homes of a select few.
If you ask, as some of you often do, what is the solution, then I would ask in return: Does anyone have a solution to human self-interest, hypocrisy and apathy? Can we deny the law of survival of the fittest?
Sure we can all lend a helping hand, as long as the helping hand ushers them somewhere else. The reality is everyone may plead that Rohingya refugees need help, but nobody actually wants them _ except for human traffickers.
So in the end, we all get what we want _ except for the poor, the downtrodden and the unfortunate who will, of course, be exploited for profit by those with evil hearts, as no one else would give them a home.
The world is the problem, but we're the ones who made this world.
Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email at email@example.com.
About the author
- Writer: Voranai Vanijaka
Position: Political and Social Commentator