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Thailand: Little agreement at close of Asian migrant crisis summit

by Our Foreign Desk

REGIONAL talks on the south-east Asian refugee crisis ended yesterday with few concrete agreements as Myanmar warned neighbours against “finger-pointing.”

The 17-nation meeting in Thailand’s capital Bangkok included representatives from the US and Japan and officials from international organisations such as UN refugee agency UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

In recent weeks, thousands of migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar trying to reach Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have been found abandoned by people traffickers on overcrowded boats or in mountain camps. Several hundred bodies have also been found in shallow graves.

Travellers from Myanmar are members of the 1.3-million-strong Rohingya Muslim minority, who have suffered violent persecution at the hands of their Buddhist neighbours.

Neither Myanmar nor Bangladesh recognises the Rohingya as citizens.

At the start of the meeting, UNHCR international protection director Volker Turk said that there could be no solution if the mass migration’s root causes were not addressed.

“This will require full assumption of responsibility by Myanmar toward all its people. Granting citizenship is the ultimate goal,” he said.

“In the interim, recognising that Myanmar is their own country is urgently required (as well as) access to identity documents and the removal of restrictions on basic freedoms.”

Myanmar Foreign Affairs Ministry acting director Htin Linn responded that Mr Turk should “be more informed” and questioned whether “the spirit of co-operation” was prevailing in the room.

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

However, IOM director-general William Swing was optimistic about the outcome.

“The most encouraging result was the general consensus that these discussions need to continue,” he said. “It cannot be a one-off.”

Mr Swing said that, since 2012, more than 160,000 people had fled into south-east Asia, 25,000 of them this year.

“These are large numbers, but this is not an invasion or an inundation,” he added.

In Myanmar yesterday the navy announced the rescue of 727 Bengalis — possibly referring to Rohingya people — from a boat a few dozen miles off the coast of the Irrawaddy Delta region and said that they were taken to a nearby island.

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