Thousands are risking their lives at sea to escape persecution in Myanmar. People in the United States and Washington state can help by advocating for these refugees’ rights.

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THE world cannot sit idly by as thousands of starving boat refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh remain adrift in Southeast Asia’s Andaman Sea. Countries in that region — including Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia — need to step up efforts to rescue the migrants and address the root causes of this exodus.

The United States already has offered financial assistance and maritime surveillance flights to find stranded boats, but the Obama administration should also agree to accept more refugees. Doing so would encourage other nations to join this humanitarian mission.

Some refugees are fleeing economic hardship in Bangladesh. Many others are Rohingya Muslims subject to severe persecution and discrimination by the majority-Buddhist government of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma).

The international community is finally paying attention to their plight after Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia recently turned away boats filled with crying women and children. Many of these people are victims of human trafficking. They are at the mercy of — or are now abandoned by — unscrupulous smugglers trying to evade authorities after mass graves were uncovered in Thailand and Malaysia. The discovery of those gruesome sites indicate previous Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees were transferred to slave camps where some were held for ransom and left to die.

Malaysia has agreed to search for, rescue and house refugees for up to a year. Indonesia is also providing temporary shelter. Representatives of those countries are meeting with Thai officials in Bangkok, Thailand, on Friday to discuss the crisis.

The government of Myanmar has agreed to attend the meeting only on the condition the Rohingyas are not mentioned by name. They refer to them as “Bengalis” and “irregular migrants.”

This offensive pettiness comes from a regime that has made the lives of minority populations unbearable to the point that groups, such as the Rohingya, place their fate in the hands of smugglers.

The Obama administration must remind Myanmar that diplomatic relations were restored in 2012 on the condition that the country would improve its human-rights record, among other reforms.

Right now, the priority for Southeast Asian countries should be to save as many lives as possible.”

If that record doesn’t change, then U.S. policy must.

Right now, the priority for Southeast Asian countries should be to save as many lives as possible. The international community must apply more pressure on Myanmar to end oppressive domestic policies that have driven thousands to risk their lives at sea.