Delegates from 17 governments, along with international organizations, have met in Thailand to address the refugee crisis in Southeast Asia. Myanmar has taken exception to being blamed for the problem.
At an intergovernmental meeting on Friday, Thailand's foreign minister called for Southeast Asian nations to work together to combat the "alarming level" of refugees fleeing anti-Muslim persecution in Myanmar.
Representatives of 17 governments from across Asia as well as from the United States and Switzerland, along with organizations such as the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, attended the summit in Bangkok convened to address the area's migrant crisis. Over 3,500 starving Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees have come ashore in Malaysia and Indonesia in recent months, and thousands more are thought to be stranded on rickety boats at the mercy of human traffickers in the Bay of Bengal.
"No country can solve this problem alone," said Foreign Minister Thanasak Patimaprakorn.
"The influx of irregular migrants in the Indian Ocean has reached an alarming level," Thanasak added, suggesting that the "root causes that motivated these people to leave must also be addressed."
A problem gone largely ignored
Observers, however, were skeptical that the one-day meeting, which is not being attended by all nations at the ministerial level, can solve an issue that has plagued the region for years and gone largely ignored by authorities.
Earlier this month, Thailand began a long-awaited crackdown on the human trafficking industry, which has forced the boats to continue on to Malaysia or Indonesia to go ashore.
On Friday, Bangkok acquiesced to a request from US authorities to allow American surveillance aircraft to search Thai waters for boats trafficking migrants.
Myanmar criticizes 'finger-pointing'
Myanmar, where the Rohingya have been stripped of their citizenship and face increasingly strong anti-Muslim sentiment from Buddhist nationals, took exception to being singled out in the international outcry over the crisis.
On "this issue of illegal migration of boat people, you cannot single out my country," Burmese Foreign Ministry Director General Htin Lynn said in stern response to a UNHCR comment that Myanmar must accept "full responsibility" for the problem.
"Finger-pointing will not serve any purpose and take us nowhere," Htin Lynn added.
Malaysia, which recently made the grim discovery of mass graves for would-be migrants within its borders, offered to host a follow-up emergency summit with the leaders of Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar. An official from the foreign ministry declined to say when such a meeting would take place, because "it will take time to put together, and we don't know yet."
es/jil (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)