The impoverished west African nation of Gambia has offered to take in all Rohingya refugees as part of its “sacred duty” to alleviate the suffering of fellow Muslims escaping oppression.
The Gambian government has asked East Asian countries to send them needy Rohingyas so that it can set them up in refugee camps.
The 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya community has fled in droves from their homes in Myanmar across south-east Asia following increasing persecution by the country’s Buddhist majority.
In recent years, the community has often been described by the United Nations and others as one of the most persecuted people in the world.
“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,” a government statement 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 Muslim-majority Gambia set up “habitable camps with decent sanitary conditions”.
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.
As Myanmar began shifting from a military dictatorship towards a more open democracy in 2011, tensions began to increase between the country’s Buddhists and Muslims, most of whom claim to be Rohingya.
The government refused to grant citizenship to the Rohingya minority, saying they are recent illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
Hundreds have been killed in deadly riots which have often followed reports – not always verified – of rapes or murders of Buddhists. About 140,000 Rakhine Muslims have fled their homes, with many living in squalid camps.
Increasingly, they have begun to flee by boat from the coastal state of Rakhine.
Since January, some 25,000 Rohingya are believed to have attempted the voyage by boat to neighbouring nations. Several thousand are still at sea after being repeatedly rejected by the navies of Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.
Adding to the migrant crisis, Bangladeshis have also been attempting boat voyages to escape grinding poverty.