ASEAN Migrant Crisis

Bangkok meeting a failure as delegates avoid discussion of key issues in regional migrant crisis

BANGKOK, 29 May — Parliamentarians from ASEAN member states, including Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Myanmar expressed serious concern today after a meeting on irregular migration in Southeast Asia failed to address in any meaningful way the root causes of the region’s migrant crisis.

Lawmakers from ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said they were dismayed and disappointed that representatives from ASEAN member states failed to publicly discuss the persecution of the Rohingya, shamefully bowing to pressures from a military government directly responsible for some of the most shocking and heinous policies of persecution in the world today.

“It’s just another case of ASEAN doing as ASEAN does: lots of talk with little genuine substance or resolve to take any action whatsoever on the root causes of this crisis,” said Charles Santiago, Chairperson of APHR and Malaysian Member of Parliament.

“The meeting’s failure to openly discuss the desperate conditions and systematic human rights violations suffered by the Rohingya population is tantamount to complicity in the crimes being committed against them. A country responsible for human rights violations cannot just veto any discussion of them in an open meeting.

“Myanmar’s policies are aimed at ‘cleansing’ the country of the Rohingya population, pure and simple: the government even admits to it itself. Can we really allow them to dictate that we can’t talk about it? Calling it an elephant in the room doesn’t even begin to do it justice,” Santiago added.

Results from Myanmar’s recent national census sends a clear signal of how the government there views the minority, APHR said. The results, released today, did not include details on any of the estimated 1.1 million Rohingya, with census takers refusing to count anyone who identified themselves as such.

APHR reiterated its calls for Malaysia to urgently convene an Emergency ASEAN Summit to resolve the Rohingya issue and wider problem of human trafficking at the highest levels of government and come up with binding agreements to address the problems.

It’s crystal clear what we need to deal with and address here – and the majority of it is down to what is happening in Myanmar, APHR said. If ASEAN can’t even talk about it let alone agree on a plan of action, then there is exactly zero chance of any long-term solution, APHR warned.

The issues at stake include: state-sponsored persecution and systematic human rights violations of the Rohingya; violence and hatred being fostered between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Myanmar; some 140,000 mostly Rohingya internally displaced and being held in squalid camps in Rakhine State, while others are segregated in racially divided ghettos; and ASEAN member states denying the right to asylum of tens of thousands of Rohingya risking their lives fleeing intolerable conditions; as well as a regional failure to tackle international people smuggling and human trafficking gangs operating in alliance with state officers.

Media reports on Friday suggested Malaysia was seeking to organize another government-level meeting with representatives from Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Myanmar. However, APHR stressed that this was an issue that all the governments of ASEAN and relevant nations such as Bangladesh must be involved in addressing.

“The crimes taking place against the Rohingya in Myanmar are edging closer and closer towards crimes against humanity, with the government enacting legislation aimed at limiting births, segregating communities and fueling hatred and violence against the Rohingya as well as the wider Muslim community in Myanmar,” Santiago said.

“The fact that ASEAN is refusing or failing to confront this looming catastrophe threatens the very fabric of the grouping itself. The Rohingya crisis is a threat to the security and stability of the entire region and must be confronted in a unified way by ASEAN,” Santiago added.

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