Myanmar insisted it was not to blame for Southeast Asia’s latest influx of “boat people” at a regional crisis meeting on Friday, as the United States said thousands of vulnerable migrants adrift at sea needed urgent rescue, reports Reuters.
More than 3,000 migrants have landed in Indonesia and Malaysia since Thailand launched a crackdown on human trafficking gangs this month. About 2,600 are believed to be still adrift in boats, relief agencies have said.
While some of the migrants are Bangladeshis escaping poverty at home, many are members of Myanmar’s 1.1 million Rohingya Muslim minority who live in apartheid-like conditions in the country’s Rakhine state.
“You cannot single out my country,” Htein Lin, director general at Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and head of the country’s delegation to Friday’s meeting in Bangkok, said in his opening remarks. “In the influx of migration, Myanmar is not the only country.”
The region was suffering from a human trafficking problem, he said, and Myanmar would cooperate with regional and international efforts to find “practical mechanisms” to deal with it.
Myanmar does not consider the Rohingya citizens, rendering them effectively stateless, while denying it discriminates against them or that they are fleeing persecution. It does not call them Rohingya but refers to them as Bengalis, indicating they are from Bangladesh.
The Bangkok gathering brings together 17 countries from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and elsewhere in Asia, along with the United States, Switzerland and international bodies such as the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency.