Representatives from 17 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) along with the US, Switzerland and International bodies met in Thailand to address the ongoing migrant crisis in the region on Friday, but little progress was made and discussion of the root cause of the problem was taboo.
The Bangkok meeting was held under the shadow of the growing southeast Asian migrant crisis involving more than 3,000 Rohingya Muslims now in refugee camps who have fled Myanmar due to being denied basic human rights, apartheid-like conditions and citizenship in the country. Thousands of other migrants are still stuck in the Andaman Sea, and dozens of mass graves of migrants have been found in Thai and Malaysian trafficking camps.
Despite this grim picture, Myanmar has refused to accept responsibility and delegates at the migrant meeting summit and has failed to hold the country responsible for its state sponsored persecution of the Rohingya people.
Most countries did not even use the word "Rohingya" to refer to the people, who have lived in Myanmar for centuries. Instead Myanmar’s government claims the ethnic and religious minority are immigrants from Bangladesh.
Without accepting to the existence of the Rohingya as an ethnic group, it was hard for the attending to find a solution to the root cause of the problem.
Instead of discussing the root of the crisis, representatives of countries focused on discussing humanitarian assistance to the migrants in camps and detention centers. The United States pledged $3 million in funds, while Australia is said to have provided nearly $5 million. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has appealed for $26 million to help thousands of Rohingya Muslims who live in dire conditions.
Stopping the human trafficking in the region and saving migrants stranded in Southeast Asian seas were also on the agenda. Thailand announced that it has given permission to the US to fly trailer aircraft over Thai airspace to help find boats stuck at sea. US flights have already been operating over Malaysian airspace.
Finally the countries have agreed on some "recommendations" for the people who face discrimination, such as "promoting full respect for human rights and adequate access of people to basic rights and services, such as housing, education and health care," but without any binding agreement.
As the region prepares for more talks after what delegates called "a good first step," Myanmar announced that its navy found 727 migrants on a fishing boat, including 45 children, and towed it to an island.
Thousands of stateless Rohingya Muslims who are denied citizenship have fled violence and poverty in Myanmar since 2012 following attacks by Buddhist mobs.
More than 100,000 men, women, and children have been subjected to forced migration. Most travel in boats to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, where they suffer from human traffickers and smugglers.