No migrants 'blame game'

No migrants 'blame game'
Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapagorn.

There will be no blame game at a special regional meeting in Bangkok today in response to the migrant crisis, as it is an international burden that needs to be shared, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapagorn said yesterday.

Speaking to Nation Group editor-in-chief Thepchai Yong, Tanasak said the irregular movement of migrants was an important issue for all countries.

"But our point is not to blame the countries of origin. We have to protect our friends [neighbouring countries] too. No one wants to see this problem," he said when asked how the root cause of the problem should be dealt with.

Thousands of Rohingya from Myanmar as well as Bangladeshis have taken dangerous boat journeys in the region.

The Thai government has invited representatives of 17 countries and international organisations, including United Nations refugee agencies, to join the meeting today.

The meeting will be chaired by Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Norachit Sinhaseni to search for short, medium and long-term solutions, Tanasak said.

Thailand has measures in place to provide humanitarian assistance to thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants believed to be still at sea, he said.

Indonesia and Malaysia announced at a meeting attended by Tanasak last week that they would save some 7,000 people still at sea and shelter them for one year.

"Each of the two countries agreed to take 3,000 while Thailand will ship them to the shelters whenever they [Indonesia and Malaysia] are ready," Tanasak said.

Thailand cannot take more migrants as it already has more than 130,000 refugees from Myanmar being sheltered along the border, he said.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said his government has set up a coordination centre to help the migrants and if the US wants to help it can.

The US has asked to use Thai naval bases to patrol for migrants at sea.

According to Tanasak, the medium-term measure was to seek ways to prevent migrants from attempting to enter countries illegally while the long-term measure centred on seeking the co-operation of countries of origin to improve living standards in those nations.

"After my address at the opening [of the meeting], representatives of foreign countries will take the floor to propose how they can help," the minister said. "So at the end of the meeting, we will know how many [migrants] each country will take and who will send ships to take them."

UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman Vivian Tan said the UNHRC, together with the International Organisation for Migration and UN Office on Drugs and Crime, would propose a 10-point action plan at the meeting.

The UN hopes countries at the meeting will agree to a joint response to the immediate humanitarian crisis, including on how to address the root causes, she said.

Bangladeshi officials attending the meeting will stress that their government has taken steps to repatriate its citizens who were among the boat people rescued in Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar recently, sources said on condition of anonymity.

Bangladesh sent a five-member delegation to Bangkok headed by Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque.

The sources told Bangladesh's The Daily Star that the country's stance was that the Rohingya problem was the root cause of the unprecedented human trafficking.

"Bangladesh strongly believes that until and unless the Rohingya problem is solved permanently, this type of irregular, illegal and risky migration cannot be fully stopped," said an official.

Ahead of the meeting, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said his country took 750 refugees each year under the UNHCR programme.

"So it's quite possible we can accommodate some of those refugees [the Rohingya and Bangladeshis] within that programme. [But] at this point we are not looking to grow the number that we take."

Human Rights Watch said representatives of governments at the meeting should reach binding agreements to save people at sea, permit them to disembark without conditions and ensure unimpeded access for United Nations agencies to protect the rights of asylum seekers.

They should also demand that Myanmar and Bangladesh take specific steps to end human rights abuses against the Rohingya that are causing them to flee on dangerous boats to escape persecution, it said in a statement.

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