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Eight thousand people are stranded at sea. So why aren't we helping them?

Eight thousand people are stranded at sea.

What if I told you that a girl the same as your own son or daughter was stranded in the middle of ocean?

The little girl is hungry. She’d do anything for just a warm bowl of her favourite soup, but there’s no ingredients around to cook it up. Her mum says there’ll be no fresh water left soon.

She’s been there for months, and she’s desperate and sad and scared for her life.

It’s a true story. Except it’s not just one little girl trapped in these desperate circumstances; it’s hundreds of children, plus thousands more men and women, who are members of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya ethnic minority.

Having fled discrimination, violence and hardship in their home countries (Rohingya are only allowed two children, for example, so they have to flee or have an illegal, unsafe abortion if they fall pregnant with a third), they have found no country will take them in.

Rohingya children. Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim community have long been persecuted and marginalized by Myanmar’s mostly Buddhist population. (Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

As a result, thousands of refugees and migrants have been at sea for more than two months off the coasts of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

There are up to 8,000 currently at sea, enduring worsening conditions each day as they float, seemingly endlessly, on the sea they fear will become their watery grave.

Those fears are not unfounded, either: At least 200 people have died on boats already, including at least seven children, according to the ABC.

Rohingya migrants. (Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

Some of the refugees were rescued by fishing boats and taken to Indonesia last Thursday. They arrived in shocking physical condition, with 25 of them needing admission to hospital because their bodies had gone into “heavy shock”.

“They were on the sea for four months, no food, no clean food, no bedding, that made the people dehydrated, and caused trauma,” Dr Iqbal, who oversaw their medical care, told the ABC.

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Many of the rescued refugees were malnourished and had to take fluids through intravenous drips.

Rohingya and Bangladesh migrants rest inside a shelter on May 13, 2015 in Lhoksukon, Aceh province, Indonesia. Boats carrying over 500 of Myanmar’s Rohingya refugees have arrived in Indonesia, many requiring medical attention. (Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

As the situation grows increasingly desperate, international human rights organisation Amnesty International has launched a petition calling on governments of the region to  immediately coordinate search and rescue operations to assist boats in distress.

The petition calls on authorities to allow all the boats land safely in the nearest country, and to provide food, water, medical care and other pressing humanitarian provisions to the desperate men, women and children.

“By pushing back boats and refusing to rescue people in trouble, the governments of the region are breaching international human rights law, and sentencing people to death, the petition says. “People should not be detained, prosecuted or otherwise punished solely because of their method of arrival.”

Amnesty International Australia’s refugee campaign coordinator Graeme McGregor told Mamamia the Rohingya people are “the world’s most persecuted refugees”.

“They’ve survived decades of abuse in border camps and 2,000 km of treacherous ocean. Now, when they need our help most, they’re being pushed back out to sea,” he said.
Tony Abbott has shown no intention of assisting the stranded men, women and children.

But Prime Minister Tony Abbott has shown no intention of helping these desperate human beings; instead, he said he supports regional countries turning these boats around, and stands by the Australian Government doing the same.

“I don’t apologise in any way for the action that Australia has taken to preserve safety at sea by turning boats around where necessary,” he said, according to the ABC. “(A)nd if other countries choose to do that, frankly, that is almost certainly absolutely necessary.”

Please call on the governments of Malaysia and Indonesia to act immediately and save the lives of up to 8,000 people. Sign the petition here.

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