South East Asia: Inaction paves the way for future refugee disaster

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7 Jul 2015
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Refugees and Migrants

South East Asian governments have so far failed to take sufficient action to protect refugees and migrants one month after a key summit to address the crisis that saw thousands of people stranded on boats over the past months Amnesty International said in an open letter today.

The Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean in Bangkok on 29 May brought 17 countries together to discuss the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal.

“One month after the Bangkok summit, there are few signs that governments are doing what is necessary to address the desperate plight of migrants and refugees. There’s still inadequate coordination on search and rescue operations, and a lack of clear protection measures for people who have landed on their shores,” said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International's Asia Pacific Director.

The International Organization for Migration at one point in May estimated that there were as many as 8,000 people – refugees and migrants mainly from Myanmar and Bangladesh - stranded on boats close to Thailand.

Indonesia and Malaysia have since committed to providing temporary protection for up to a year for 7,000 people on the condition that third governments resettle or repatriate them.

The next sailing season will likely start in October when seas are calmer and refugees and migrants will again take to boats to leave their home countries.

“Inaction now could pave the way for disaster later. Although it might look like the worst of the immediate crisis at sea is over, it is likely to escalate again once the sailing season starts. Those facing persecutions in their home countries will continue to flee to seek asylum. It is crucial that regional governments put measures in place to ensure that more lives are not lost, and ensure there are safe and legal means for seeking asylum or migrating,” said Richard Bennett.

In the open letter, Amnesty International urges the governments of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Australia and Bangladesh to take urgent measures to address the crisis. ASEAN foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 1-6 August 2015.

Measures must include stepping up coordinated search and rescue efforts, ensuring that human rights of migrants and refugees are protected and respected, and addressing the root causes of the current crisis, in particular by calling on the government of Myanmar to end systematic discrimination against the Rohingya minority.

“Now is the time not to relax but to intensify efforts to address he situation of refugees and migrants who have or are likely to undergo dangerous journeys at sea. This latest episode in a long-standing crisis is by no means over and should be at the top of the agenda for regional governments. The upcoming ASEAN meeting is another opportunity to put in place comprehensive measures for regional action,” said Richard Bennett.

1 July 2015