Pressure on Myanmar to deal with migrants

Pressure on Myanmar to deal with migrants

All roads lead to Myanmar as ministers from ASEAN countries and a senior official from the United States head to Nay Pyi Taw for intensive diplomatic talks to find a solution to the migrants exodus to Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, four suspects wanted in connection with the alleged trafficking of migrants turned themselves in to Thai police and five were arrested.

A day after their joint announcement to provide temporary shelters to some 7,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants, foreign ministers Anifah Aman of Malaysia and Retno Marsudi of Indonesia were due to hold talks in Myanmar.

A statement from Malaysia's Foreign Ministry said Anifah had arrived in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday to meet his Myanmar counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin to discuss and exchange views on the issue of irregular movement of people, in particular human trafficking and people smuggling in Southeast Asia.

US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken was also to meet with Myanmar officials today to urge the country to co-operate with Bangladesh, particularly to rescue and provide immediate relief to migrants adrift.

"We will be talking directly to the government of Myanmar about its own responsibilities to improve conditions in Rakhine state so that people don't feel that their only choice is to put their lives at risk by leaving and taking to the sea," Blinken said during a stop on Wednesday in Jakarta. The State Department's deputy spokesperson, Marie Harf, said "the US stands ready to help the countries of the region bear the burden and save lives today. We have a common obligation to answer the call of these migrants".

Myanmar is considered as the origin of the problem, as Rohingya are fleeing the country due to its policy of not recognising them as an ethnic group who are Myanmar citizens.

Nay Pyi Taw has softened its stance on extending humanitarian assistance to the boat people but insisted the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

"If they are going to discuss about Rohingya, as we have said before, we do not accept that term here," said Zaw Htay, director of the presidential office.

But he confirmed that Myanmar would attend a broader regional forum planned on the crisis in Bangkok on May 29, along with senior officials from 17 countries including a high-level US delegation and experts from United Nations agencies on refugees and trans-border crimes will be present.

Meanwhile Thai Immigration police have been assigned to prepare documents for 318 detained Rohingya immigrants to be ready in case a third country agrees to accept their transfer, said national police chief Somyot Poompanmuang. Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan issued the order in response to reports that many countries are willing to accept the migrants.

Some 25,000 migrants are believed to have made the dangerous boat trips from Bangladesh and Myanmar since October last year. More than 7,000 of them are believed to adrift at sea. Hundreds were rescued in Indonesia on Wednesday and survivors said they had floated away from Thai waters.

Deputy Government Spokesman Maj-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd yesterday dismissed as untrue foreign news reports quoting a Rohingya as claiming the Thai military had threatened to sink a boat he was on if the vessel did not leave Thai waters on May 14. The Navy personnel helped fix the vessel's engines for several hours until 3am that night apart from providing food and water on humanitarian grounds, he said.

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