KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (UPDATED) – Malaysia on Sunday, May 17, pressed Myanmar to engage in talks on Southeast Asia’s boat-people influx, warning it may otherwise call an emergency meeting on the unfolding humanitarian crisis.
“If necessary, we will call for an emergency (regional) meeting,” Foreign Minister Anifah Aman was quoted as saying by the state-run Bernama news agency.
Anifah said Malaysia as chair of regional grouping ASEAN “hopes Myanmar can sit together to find a solution before it is brought to the international level.”
Malaysia had earlier announced that Anifah would host a meeting on Wednesday, May 20, with his Indonesian and Thai counterparts.
The 3 nations have sparked outrage by turning away vessels overloaded with migrants from Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya minority and with poor Bangladeshis.
Nearly 3,000 such migrants have swum to shore or been rescued off Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand over the past week.
All 3 nations along with Myanmar are among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Along with criticism of recipient nations, attention is increasingly being focused on Myanmar’s much-criticized treatment of its Muslim ethnic Rohingya minority – which is blamed for fuelling the mass migration.
Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Sunday pointed the finger squarely at Myanmar.
“We want their (Rohingya) influx to be brought under control before it becomes a big burden to (Malaysia),” he said, according to Bernama.
He also took a swipe at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) which earlier criticized the boat push-backs, saying the agency “is not that effective.”
Anifah will host Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and their Thai counterpart Tanasak Patimapragorn for talks in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday in response to the migrant crisis, a foreign ministry official said.
Earlier Sunday, Anifah met in Malaysia with Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali. The visit was arranged before the latest boat-people exodus.
Recently arrived migrants have recounted grim stories of people dying at sea of starvation, sickness or drowning when rickety boats sank.
Activists say thousands more are feared to be drifting helplessly at sea after a Thai crackdown on human-trafficking disrupted busy migration routes from the Bay of Bengal to Southeast Asia.
On Saturday, May 16, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak urged Myanmar to help solve what he called a “humanitarian catastrophe.”
Myanmar has previously steadfastly refused to discuss the issue in regional forums. It considers Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, denying them citizenship, and disavows responsibility for them.
It has already said it may snub an invitation from Thailand to attend a May 29 meeting there to address the crisis.
In contrast to the Rohingya, the Bangladeshi boat-people are believed to be mainly economic migrants seeking to escape their country’s grinding poverty.
Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque – who works under foreign minister Ali – on Saturday said his country was struggling to contain surging illegal migration through the Bay of Bengal.
He blamed Myanmar for the high number of Rohingya fleeing abroad and called for international pressure on it.
“The Rohingya crisis has been created by Myanmar, which will have to find a solution,” Haque said.
Indonesia’s former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Sunday said the situation needed an urgent regional response, not endless finger-pointing.
“It is not fair that the blame is Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand’s alone,” he wrote on his official Twitter account.
“Myanmar and Bangladesh cannot wash their hands of this.” – Dan Martin, AFP/Rappler.com