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Dhaka Tribune

Philippines ready to help boatpeople

Update : 19 May 2015, 06:53 PM

The Philippines yesterday said it was ready to help Rohingya and Bangladeshi boatpeople, as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand sparked outrage for turning many of them away.

The International State Crime Initiative (ISCI), based at Queen Mary University of London, has called the persecution of the Rohingya minority by the Myanmar government “genocide.”

In a joint statement yesterday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, International Organization for Migration and other UN groups said they “strongly urge the leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to protect migrants and refugees stranded on vessels ... to facilitate safe disembarkation and to give priority to saving lives, protecting rights and respecting human dignity.”

Philippine Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said: “I think humanitarian consideration should transcend any other consideration.

 “We’re talking here about human beings drifting at sea and gradually dying.”

 But the justice secretary yesterday said that genuine asylum seekers would need to be sorted from those “just seeking greener pastures” before Manila takes in migrants. That process can take years. The Philippines is a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.

 “As the only predominantly Catholic nation in South-east Asia, it is our duty to provide succour to those in need,” a Philippine presidential spokesman told AFP.

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, where they have no legal rights, making them a target for human traffickers.

Malaysia and Thailand have called on Myanmar to stem the flow of the Rohingya but Myanmar has refused to take responsibility, claiming the group is composed of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Bangladesh State Minister for Home Affairs Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal yesterday said very few of the boatpeople are Bangladeshis, describing them as mostly Rohingya.

Vitriol against the migrants appears to be on the rise on Thai social media, which the government said justified its policy.   

“Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is worried about the social media trend right now that shows that the government should not help irregular migrants in the Indian Ocean …” a deputy government spokesman said on Monday.

Indonesia’s foreign minster yesterday said that Indonesia had “given more than it should” to help hundreds of stranded Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said Indonesia had sheltered 1,346 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants who washed onto Aceh and North Sumatra provinces last week.

“Indonesia has given more than it should do as a non-member-state of the Refugee Convention of 1951,” she said.

About 3,000 migrants have reached land in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, but all three countries have pushed some ships away. Aid groups estimate that thousands more are stranded in the Andaman Sea.

The Philippines and Myanmar have been invited to attend a conference on the crisis to be hosted by Thailand on May 29.

Bangladesh, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam, Australia and the United States are among 15 other governments attending the meeting. 

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