May 30, 2015
Rohingya migrants sit in their boat as they are towed closer to land by Acehnese fishermen, off the coast near the city of Geulumpang in Indonesia’s East Aceh district of Aceh province, before being rescued on May 20, 2015. Hundreds of starving boatpeople were rescued off Indonesia on May 20 as Myanmar for the first time offered to help ease a regional migrant crisis blamed in part on its treatment of the ethnic Rohingya minority. AFP PHOTO / JANUAR
BANGKOK — A regional conference called to address the swelling tide of boat people in Southeast Asia ended with no major breakthroughs, with Myanmar deflecting blame for fueling the crisis and warning that “finger pointing” would not help.
But delegates agreed on one thing at least— the need to keep talking. The U.S. also prepared to begin surveillance flights in Thai airspace to help search for migrants who might be still stranded, after Thailand gave its permission.
In Myanmar, state television said the navy had seized a boat with 727 migrants off the coast of the Irrawaddy Delta region, the latest vessel found in the last few weeks. The report identified those on board as “Bengalis” — a reference to Bangladeshis — and said they were taken to a nearby island. Forty-five of them were children.
Friday’s meeting in Bangkok was attended by representatives of 17 countries, along with the United States and Japan and officials from international organizations such as the U.N. refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration. That so many countries — including Myanmar — participated was considered progress in itself.
“The most encouraging result was the general consensus that these discussions need to continue,” said IOM Director-General William Lacy Swing. “It cannot be a one-off.”
Southeast Asia has been beset for years by growing waves of desperate migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar. In the last several weeks alone, at least 3,000 people have been rescued by fishermen or have made their way ashore in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Several thousand more are believed to still be at sea after human smugglers abandoned their boats amid a regional crackdown that has unearthed the graves of dozens of people who died while being kept hostage in illegal trafficking camps.
Some are Bangladeshis who left their impoverished homeland in hope of finding jobs abroad. But many are Rohingya Muslims who have fled persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which has denied them basic rights, including citizenship, and confined more than 100,000 to camps. There are more than 1 million Rohingya living in the country formerly known as Burma.