Bangkok (dpa) – After accusing its critics of “finger-pointing” at a regional conference on South-East Asia’s migration crisis Friday, Myanmar agreed to respect human rights in Rakhine State.
Diplomats and officials from 17 countries had gathered in Bangkok to discuss how to deal with the thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants trying to reach Malaysia and Indonesia by boat.
The conference ended with a pledge to intensify search-and-rescue operations and to address the root causes of the problem.
“The countries in the region have started the operations that were agreed upon last week,” said Norachit Sinhaseni, permanent secretary at the Thai Foreign Ministry.
Norachit said Myanmar “agreed” to a conference resolution that called for “enhancing a sense of security and belonging, promoting full respect for human rights and adequate access of people to basic rights and services” in Rakhine State.
Earlier in the day, Htin Lynn, Myanmar’s head of delegation, said in his opening remarks: “Finger-pointing will not serve any purpose and take us nowhere.”
Volker Turk, assistant high commissioner at UN refugee agency UNHCR, has said Myanmar must accept “full responsibility” for the flow of the ethnic Rohingya leaving the country.
“Citizenship [for the Rohingya] must be the ultimate goal,” he said. The Myanmar government must grant identity documents to Rohingya “to stabilize and normalize lives.”
Myanmar accused UNHCR of politicizing the issue and said that the majority of people on the boats were victims of trafficking
The mainly Muslim Rohingya say they suffer discrimination in Myanmar, which does not recognize them as one of the official ethnic groups, and considers them to be illegal Bengali immigrants.
Bangladesh, as another country of origin for the migrants, said it was prepared to take “full responsibility” in repatriating its citizens.
The Bangladeshi delegation, led by Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque, rejected the notion that Bangladeshis were heading towards Indonesia and Malaysia because of a lack of economic opportunities.
Haque said Bangladesh had sustained economic growth and hundreds of thousands of people have been lifted out of poverty.
Bangladeshis had left because of the false promises of traffickers, Haque said, calling it a “manifestation of human trafficking at its worst.”
The current crisis was sparked earlier this month when Thai authorities found a mass grave of mostly Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
The ensuing outcry led the Thai government to crack down on human trafficking networks, stranding thousands of migrants with little food or water off the coasts of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Indonesia and Malaysia agreed last week to give temporary shelter to the more than 7,000 migrants, but say they must be resettled by the international community within a year.
Dicky Kumar, Indonesia’s head of delegation, told the conference that local communities in Aceh have shown their “humanity and compassion” in rescuing the migrants, even with their limited infrastructure.
His Malaysian counterpart Ibrahim bin Abdullah asked for financial assistance as Kuala Lumpur was sheltering more than 100,000 refugees from Myanmar alone.
The United States said it would release 2 million dollars in aid and that it had been granted permission by Malaysia and Thailand to fly search patrols. Australia and Switzerland also agreed to contribute aid.
Meanwhile, Myanmar’s navy Friday seized a boat carrying more than 727 migrants close to the coast of Ayeyawady division, state media reported.
The group included 45 children, the Information Ministry said on its website. It was still unclear where the migrants had originated from.