Rohingya women and children register at a confinement area for migrants at Bayeun, in Indonesia's Aceh province In this picture taken on May 22 (AFP Photo/Romeo Gacad)
Delegates from Myanmar, Bangladesh, Indonesia and 14 other countries, along with the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), gathered in Bangkok Friday to discuss the boat people crisis plaguing the region.
More than 3,500 boat people — most of them Rohingya — have arrived in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia in recent weeks, while thousands more may still be adrift in the Andaman Sea.
At the opening session, Myanmar’s delegation insisted it was “open-minded” and eager to address the humanitarian crisis, but downplayed its own role in the current situation.
“Finger pointing will take us nowhere,” warned Htin Lynn, Myanmar’s special representative.
“This issue of illegal migration and boat people, you cannot single out my country.”
At a meeting in Putrajaya on May 20, Thailand, Indonesia and host-country Malaysia vowed to offer immediate humanitarian assistance. Indonesia and Malaysia also pledged to offer shelter while resettlement and repatriation options were considered.
All three countries on Friday said they hoped the Bangkok meet would tackle the “root causes” of the irregular migration, though stopped short of publicly suggesting what such roots might be.
“My government believes that combatting human trafficking and illegal migration requires addressing the root causes,” said Ibrahim bin Abdullah, deputy secretary-general of Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
According to Abdullah, 149,920 out of 152,830 refugees and asylum seekers registered in Malaysia are from Myanmar.
Myanmar’s Lynn, who is an acting director-general in the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s economics department, appeared to blame the UN for failing to adequately support his country.
“I brought this up with the UNHCR, I said what will you do about human trafficking.… I raised this since September,” he said. “My dear colleague from UNHCR, this constitutes politicization without merit.”
During opening statements, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Turk, called on Myanmar to issue citizenship papers and legal documentation, without specifying to whom.
The nation’s estimated 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims live in a state of abject poverty and abuse. Though most have lived in Myanmar for generations, the government considers them illegal immigrants and refuses them access to the most basic of services. Hundreds of thousands have fled the country in recent years, or moved into internal displacement camps without adequate food or medical care.
During the opening session, none of the speakers uttered the word “Rohingya”, though Foreign Minister Thanasak Patimaprakorn later insisted: “we do not give instructions.” The Myanmar government refers to the minority as Bengalis and has clashed with the international and aid community over the term.
“We set up this meeting under an open atmosphere and if you blame, it will not succeed,” he said during a press conference.