Regional governments in Asia Pacific are increasingly concerned at the arrival of Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar; nevertheless, NGOs have criticised their approach.
The refugees have arrived in fleets of up to 25 vessels, only to be turned back by Thai and Malaysian navies. The Thai government has announced it will host a regional meeting to discuss the issue.
Meeting – 29 May
Senior officials from the 15 most-affected nations, including Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Vietnam, as well as international bodies, will be invited to the 29 May meeting in Bangkok.
“The problem is complex and a severe issue for this region that requires urgent attention,” Major General Sansern Kaewkamnerd, Thai deputy government spokesperson, said via the official NNT news agency.
However, the Thai government’s approach of seeing the problem as being illegal or irregular immigration has been slammed by international NGOs.
They argue the problem is a political one, with Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar and not looking for work elsewhere.
“ASEAN needs to address the root causes of the Rohingya and allow them to exist as Rohingya in their own country,” Debbie Stothard, co-ordinator of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, told IHS Maritime.
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Rohingya, who are Muslims, have faced increased persecution in overwhelmingly Buddhist Myanmar in recent years, said Stothard, describing the situation as a “genocidal crisis which forces the Rohingya to flee”.
Another NGO, Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) said it is working to identify the location of vessels, and the number of people they contain, cast adrift by people-smugglers.
This was corroborated by the Thai navy which found the vessels carrying 300 migrants, but refused to grant them permission to land.
“We declined them entry to the country but we gave them food and water to adhere to our human rights obligations,” regional police official Major General Puttichat Akhachan told Reuters.