On Friday, representatives from more than 17 countries gathered in Bangkok for a meeting to address the ongoing migrant crisis in Southeast Asia.
While the meeting didn’t specifically address who would be helped, delegates from participating nations all agreed to generate job incentives, offer skills training and establish a sense of security and belonging for migrants. Currently, about 25,000 people have sailed out of Bangladesh and Myanmar since 2014, and hundreds of them are believed to have died at sea. The Rohingya, the stateless and widely persecuted minority group in Myanmar and Bangladesh, has the largest number fleeing on those boats.
However, representatives from the UN refugee agency and Myanmar sparred over the predicament of the Rohingya ethnic minority. Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry Director General Htin Lynn said the UN should not force his country to recognize the Muslim minority as citizens, and Myanmar should not be singled out in the migrant crisis in Southeast Asia. Earlier in the day, Volker Turk, the UN’s assistant high commissioner for refugees, claimed that no solution could be found if root causes of the crisis were not addressed. He emphasized that granting the Rohingyas citizenship is the ultimate goal of the whole campaign.
According to various human rights reports, the Rohingya still face ongoing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. The word Rohingya also did not appear on the meeting’s invitation after the Burmese government threatened to boycott the talk.
Experts said it is unclear how effective Friday’s meeting can be since it was not attended at the ministerial level. However, there are still hopes that the meeting signals a step forward, according to Al Jazeera’s correspondent at the scene, Scott Heidler.
“Representatives at the meeting are very much focused on helping the people still stranded out at sea,” said Heidler.
So far, Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed to shelter the arrived migrants temporarily, while Thailand insisted on only providing medical aid at sea. However, Rohingyas that remained in Bangladesh and Myanmar continue to face persecution enforced by the governments. The Bangladeshi government has planned to relocate thousands of Rohingyas to a southern island due to potential plan to drive up tourism in the town of Cox’s Bazar, near the Burmese border.
“The rolocation of the Rohingya camps will definitely take place,” said Amit Kumar Baul in an interview with the Guardian. “So far, informal steps have been taken according to the Prime Minister’s directives.”
Bangladesh is currently home to 32,000 registered Rohingya refugees who are housed in two camps in the south-eastern region of Cox’s Bazar. UN officials warned that the relocation plan needs to be voluntary in order to succeed. The island plan, while hasn’t been officially announced, has identified a site of roughly 200 hectares on the Hatiya Island. The island is a nine-hour journey by land and sea from the Rohingya’s current camp location.
Dozens of mass graves uncovered in Thailand’s Songkhla province have directed the world’s attention to the ongoing migrant crisis that have seen more than 3,500 migrants arrived on Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian soil in the past few weeks. Thai and Malaysian officials have begun investigation into a potential human trafficking business that might involve the local police.
(Feature photo of Rohingya camps and surrounding slums, by Pierre Prakash for the European Commission, CC BY-ND 2.0)