South-East Asian countries warned over possible new migrant crisis

2015-12-05 07:33
A young Myanmar Muslim Rohingya refugee looks on behind an iron fence at Indonesia's Belawan immigration detention centre in Medan city located on Sumatra island. (Romeo Gacad, AFP)

A young Myanmar Muslim Rohingya refugee looks on behind an iron fence at Indonesia's Belawan immigration detention centre in Medan city located on Sumatra island. (Romeo Gacad, AFP)

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Bangkok - A migrant crisis which affected several countries in South-East Asia earlier this year could resurface as soon as the weather improves, a conference in Bangkok was told on Friday.

"The monsoon season is ending; and it is very likely that maritime movements in the Indian Ocean will soon begin again," Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said in his opening remarks.

The region was plunged into crisis earlier this year when Rohingya refugees, a Muslim ethnic group from Myanmar who face persecution by the majority Buddhist community, were trapped on smuggling boats in the Indian Ocean after Thailand had closed down transit routes.

"We also want the country of origin to take care of the livelihoods of the affected people so they no longer feel the need to go abroad where there are many dangers," Don said. 

The situation earlier this year was only alleviated when Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to house the refugees with the condition that they be settled in a third country within a year. 

"We have not received any updates on that front ... Things are not settled," Don said.

Apichart Chinwanno, permanent secretary at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters at the end of the meeting that participants wanted an information campaign to target people who may want to leave illegally. 

"Better information must be presented to the migrants so that they are dissuaded from leaving," he said. "They must be encouraged to migrate legally."

When asked how the Rohingya, who are denied mobility and citizenship within Myanmar, might emigrate legally, Apichart said that the majority of migrants in the Indian Ocean were "economic migrants" and not refugees. 

"Seventy to 80% are economic migrants," he said.

Chris Lewa, head of the Arakan Project rights group which monitors Rohingya refugees, said "the number is actually closer to 50% economic migrants and 50% refugees."

Read more on:    thailand  |  migrants

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