Bangkok meeting to debate crisis about Asia migrants 


May 29, Bangkok:  A regional conference to discuss possible solutions to the South East Asia migrant crisis is under way in the Thai capital Bangkok today.

The conference put together 17 countries from across the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and elsewhere in Asia, along with the United states, Switzerland and international organizations like UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency.

Bangladesh and Myanmar have seen an exodus of people fleeing south by boat to Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The US, Japan and Switzerland have sent observers and there are officials from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Organization for Migration.

Thousands are thought to be stranded at sea in abandoned boats. Most are economic migrants from Bangladesh and Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar – also known as Burma.

Thailand’s Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn In his opening remarks said that the influx of irregular migrants has reached alarming levels and an urgent and united response was needed.

Thailand has agreed to allow US surveillance planes to fly from its territory to find boats carrying migrants adrift in the ocean, according to Reuters news agency.

The BBC’s Jonathan Head in Bangkok said that it was difficult to get Myanmar to participate in the talks, and the delegation has threatened to walk out if the word Rohingya is mentioned. But the fact that Myanmar officials are in Bangkok engaging in multilateral discussions for the first time on this issue is a step forward.

The crisis began earlier this year when Thailand cracked down on overland migrant routes, forcing people smugglers to use sea routes instead. Most countries are unwilling take in the migrants, fearing that by accepting them they will encourage more to make the journey.

Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed to stop towing boats out to sea and to give temporary shelter to those who have landed. Thailand has only said it will stop rejecting the boats.

The Oslo Times and Agencies

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