Thailand Announces Summit to Tackle Migrant Crisis

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150512-TH-migrant-620 An illegal migrant found at a camp on the Malaysian border is transferred to a criminal court in Songkhla, Thailand, May 12, 2015.

The Thai government on Tuesday announced that it would host a summit May 29 to address illegal migration in the region, as a crisis triggered by its crackdown on human smuggling has grown increasingly dire for migrants themselves.

International organizations warned that thousands of men, women and children could be crammed aboard boats drifting at sea between Myanmar and Malaysia, and pleaded with governments in the region to assist them.

"What we're hearing from these people is that they've been stuck out at sea for weeks and months and then the smugglers just deserted them, left them with very little food and water, no fuel for the engines," Jeffrey Savage of the Jakarta office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Reuters.

Thailand’s crackdown has halted departures of boats from the Bay of Bengal, but those still at sea have been there “for weeks or even months," International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman Joe Lowry said.

“Up to 8,000 people are at sea, of which more than 1,000 have landed," he said.

On Tuesday, Bangladesh rescued 116 Malaysia-bound migrants from a Thai-owned boat abandoned by its crew off the coast of Myanmar, according to Reuters.

But Malaysia, overwhelmed by the arrival of 1,158 migrants since Sunday, announced it would turn away migrant vessels unless they were sinking.

Seaworthy boats would be supplied provisions and sent away, the Associated Press quoted Tan Kok Kwee of Malaysia’s Maritime Enforcement Agency as saying Tuesday.

A day earlier, Indonesia turned a migrant boat back to Malaysia after fishermen had rescued close to 600 migrants from the Strait of Malacca on Sunday.


Thailand – usually a major transit hub for regional migration – has been turning away the boats since its junta declared a clean-up of human smuggling on its soil.

The clampdown followed the discovery earlier this month of dozens of graves of migrants, believed to be Rohingya Muslims, on the Thai-Malaysia border.

In a statement Tuesday, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was calling a summit in Bangkok on May 29 to address “the unprecedented increase of irregular migration across the Bay of Bengal in recent years.”

Senior officials from 15 countries will attend, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, it said.

“The increasing complexity of the problem demands a multi-faceted approach. Countries of origin, transit, and destination must work together to address the problem comprehensively,” the statement said.

For its part, Malaysia said it would soon hold talks with Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand to “find solutions” to the influx of migrants in Langkawi island – off its northwestern coast near Thailand – since May 10.

Of these 486 were from Myanmar and 672 were from Bangladesh, the state-run Bernama news agency quoted Home Ministry Secretary-General Datuk Alwi Ibrahim as saying.

73 smuggling camps

In other developments, authorities in southern Thailand have found 73 people-smuggling camps in the Khao Kaew mountain range along the Thai-Malaysia border since May 1, when the first graves were discovered in Padang Besar sub-district of Songkhla province, officials said Tuesday.

“This morning the combined force of military, police and civilian officials found a fresh, big camp, that can accommodate a thousand people, some 900 meters [2,953 feet] from the border,” Police Gen. Ek Angsananon told a press conference in Hat Yai.

“The structures there still looked new with a trace of being used; some clothes were left lying around. We believe that the brokers and the illegal migrants have just left this camp recently before being discovered,” he said.

The total number of Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis found thus far was 276, Ek added. After interviews, police identified 63 of them as human trafficking victims.

The rest were illegal immigrants and traffickers, he said.

By BenarNews staff with details from news reports.


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