UNITED NATIONS' agencies for refugees and human rights - together with the International Organisation for Migration - yesterday urged Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia to save and protect hundreds of boat people from Bangladesh and Myanmar stranded on vessels in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) called on leaders of the three countries, with ASEAN support, to use measures to help boats to leave territorial waters.
"The three countries should ensure that all measures taken were in strict accordance with the principles of non-refoulement [forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country where they were liable to persecution] and other fundamental human rights standards," they said.
The governments were also urged to avoid the use of immigration detention and other punitive measures, and to ensure the human rights of all migrants and refugees were protected, and that all actions in regard to children were guided by the best interests of the child, it said.
Grave events in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea in recent days involving migrants and refugees - Rohingya and others - from Bangladesh and Myanmar confirmed that vulnerable people around the world were moving in search of safety and dignity, fleeing persecution, abject poverty, deprivation, discrimination and abuse.
Such perilous journeys, whether by land, sea, or air, have become a global phenomenon.
In Southeast Asia, more than 88,000 people have made the dangerous voyage by sea since 2014, including 25,000 who arrived in the first quarter of this year alone, the statement said. Nearly 1,000 were believed to have perished at sea due to the precarious voyages, and an equal number because of mistreatment and privation at the hands of traffickers and abusive smugglers.
Foreign ministers from Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia will today meet in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the refugee crisis - but no proposal for ways to handle the matter has been raised so far.
The UN agencies and IOM suggested the governments set in place screening procedures staffed jointly by government and international organisation personnel to identify the circumstances of all those arriving. Many could be individuals in need of protection as refugees, asylum-seekers, or stateless persons, they said.
Victims of trafficking or persons at risk of torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment might also be in the groups of boat people. Migrants with health conditions in need of emergency medical care and first-aid assistance, and migrants or others interested in voluntarily returning home, must also be identified, they said.
Thai police yesterday obtained arrest warrants for another six suspects accused of running or benefiting from the trafficking of Rohingya and other migrants in the South, bringing the figures to 71.
Of this number, 33 are in police custody through either arrest or surrender, while the remaining 38 were still on the run. There are no details about identities or field of careers for the six new wanted suspects.
Police on Monday night arrested Thassanee Suwannarat, the wife of key trafficker Pajjuban Angchote-phan, and Pol Lt-Colonel Chart Oo-thong, of Khiansa police station in Surat Thani for their roles in assisting Pajjuban, who reportedly surrendered on Monday afternoon.
A police source said Pajjuban, a former local politician in Satun, denied all roles associated with the trafficking of the migrants.
A police source said there were no high-ranking military officers found involved in the trafficking, in response to unaccredited photos showing bank transaction slips with the same name as that of a senior military officer.
Police are seeking co-operation from Myanmar authorities in pursuing a key suspect, Natthaphat Saengthong, an alias of Ko Mor, who is a brother of fishery businessman Suwan Saengthong, or Ko Nui, who has been detained. Also being hunted with Natthaphat is his close aide, identified as Warakhom Molee.
Ye Htut, Myanmar's information minister, said "if they are from Myanmar and they have enough evidence to prove they are from Myanmar, we must be ready to bring back our people."