Myanmar refuses sole blame for Asia migrant crisis

Myanmar has refused to be singled out for blame for the Asia migrant crisis at a conference of the regional grouping Asean in Bangkok.

Myanmar minister
Htin Lynn said Myanmar should not be singled out for blame

Delegates said the situation was at an alarming level. Representatives of the US and UN are also at the meeting.

Thousands of people have fled Bangladesh and Myanmar by boat, heading south to Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The UN estimates about 2,600 migrants are still stranded out at sea.

Most are economic migrants from Bangladesh and Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar – also known as Burma.

The crisis began earlier this year when Thailand cracked down on overland migrant routes, forcing people smugglers to use sea routes instead.

‘No finger-pointing’

Myanmar’s foreign ministry chief Htin Lynn said his country would co-operate in dealing with human trafficking.

But he also told delegates that on “this issue of illegal migration of boat people, you cannot single out my country.

“Finger-pointing will not serve any purpose. It will take us nowhere.”

Htin Lynn said Myanmar should not be singled out for blame

In his opening remarks, Thai Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn said “the influx of irregular migrants… has reached alarming levels”.

He added that “the root causes that motivated these people to leave must also be addressed”, in comments apparently directed at Myanmar and Bangladesh.

US assistant secretary of state Anne Richard also urged swift action to save the lives of migrants out at sea.

Analysis: Jonathan Head, BBC News, Bangkok

There is a growing consensus on how to help those migrants caught out by Thailand’s sudden move against smuggling networks. Migrant boats will no longer be pushed back to sea by Malaysia and Indonesia, although Thailand will still nudge those it finds in the direction of those two countries.

Money is being found to help support those who have already landed. Thailand has even dropped its objection to the US flying military surveillance aircraft over its territorial waters. After their harrowing voyages, the migrants should now get fair and humane treatment.

Addressing what’s causing the flow of migrants is clearly going to be more difficult. The Bangladesh delegation acknowledged that many are poor economic migrants from its shores, but stressed “external factors” driving others – a veiled reference to the harsh treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

Almost no-one is using the word Rohingya, though. The Burmese delegation objects to this, and has warned against what it calls “finger-pointing”. Consensus on the Rohingyas is still a very distant goal.

Are more people on the move than ever before?

‘Only discussions’

Friday’s talks include representatives from 17 countries affected by “irregular migration in the Indian Ocean”.

The US, Japan and Switzerland have sent observers and there are officials from the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Organization for Migration.

However, correspondents say many of those attending are not ministerial-level and the talks are unlikely to produce a binding agreement or even a plan of action.

Most countries are unwilling take in the migrants, fearing that by accepting them they will encourage more to make the journey.

Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed to stop towing boats out to sea and to give temporary shelter to those who have landed. Thailand has only said it will stop rejecting the boats.

More than 3,000 migrants have landed in Indonesia and Malaysia in recent weeks.

Asia’s migrant crisis

Rohingya Muslims mainly live in Myanmar, where they have faced decades of persecution.

Rights groups say migrants feel they have “no choice” but to leave, paying people smugglers to help them.

The UN estimates more than 120,000 Rohingya have fled in the past three years.

Traffickers usually take the migrants by sea to Thailand then overland to Malaysia.

But Thailand recently began cracking down on the migrant routes, meaning traffickers are using sea routes instead.

-BBC

 


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