– Report: Thailand wants all participants at May 29 boat people meeting to ‘share the burden,’ but doesn’t want to accept more Rohingya and Bangladeshi itself
CORRECTS TO ERASE GARBLE IN PARAGRAPH 7
by Max Constant
BANGKOK – Two days before a highly-anticipated meeting on the Southeast Asian boat people crisis, the foreign minister of host country Thailand has called for participants to “share the burden,” while criticism builds of Thailand’s own refusal to take the migrants in.
The Bangkok Post reported Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn as stressing the need Wednesday for all those at the Friday meet – and the international community – to get involved May 29 in sheltering the migrants, but in an editorial the newspaper quickly highlighted the irony of the call.
“On Monday, the government finally came up with a rescue measure it hopes will save the country from embarrassment before the regional meet, but still bars the boat people from landing on Thai soil,” wrote Sanitsuda Ekkachai.
Thailand has deployed seven ships to the Andaman Sea – among them a navy docking ship – to provide humanitarian help for stricken migrants, but refuses to let them land.
“It’s not clear what Malaysia and Indonesia think of Thailand’s move. To them, it will probably be Thailand pushing boat people to their shores, but only in better shape. It’s clear however, that Thailand wants to avoid these poor migrants like the plague,” she added.
Earlier this month, the bodies of more than 30 Bangladeshi and Myanmar migrants were discovered in southern Thailand, prompting a crackdown that led to smugglers fleeing and boatloads of the migrants then turning up on Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian shores, while thousands more remained at sea.
After a tripartite meeting in Malaysia last week, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to open temporary shelters for the migrants with United Nations assistance, on the condition that the international community organizes resettlement in third countries or repatriation to migrants’ home countries within a year.
Thailand has said it did not want to open temporary shelters on its soil as it was only a “transit country.”
After mounting criticisms over its stance, Thai junta-chief-cum prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha ordered the deployment of the boats – among them the HTMS Ang Thong, which is equipped with a small hospital – on the fringe of Thai territorial waters to rescue and provide humanitarian help to migrants.
Military aircraft were also deployed as spotters.
But Chan-ocha stood firm on his refusal to let migrants come onshore.
For Ekachai, the government’s attitude does not bode well for Friday’s meeting.
“The regional meeting should aim at building up the region’s joint efforts to eliminate human-trafficking syndicates. Thailand’s insistence to shuttling boat people to Malaysia and Indonesia will not be helpful in this regard,” she wrote.
“The slave trade syndicates cast a wide net over Southeast Asia. But it’s no secret that Thailand is the nerve centre,” she added.
Participants to Friday’s Bangkok meeting will be Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Observers also in attendance include the United States, Australia and Switzerland, and representatives from the UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Office against Drugs and Crimes.