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Rohingya crisis eases, but far from ideal

A Rohingya man is seen at a fishing port at a refugee camp outside Sittwe in Myanmar, on Oct 29, 2015. (Reuters photo)

Bangkok Post
September 18, 2016

The situation of the Rohingya boat people may have eased for now, but "humane and sustainable solutions" are still a long way off as only one-third of those people have been resettled, human rights activists and the United Nations say. 

There are 329 migrants (313 Myanmar Muslims from Rakhine State and 16 Bangladeshi migrants) in six Immigration Detention Centres, five Shelters for Children and Families, and five Welfare Protection Centres for Victims of Trafficking in Thailand, according to the six-page report titled ''Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea Crisis Response'' by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM). 

Of the 329, 68 are women, 117 are men and 144 are children, said the report released this week, avoiding the controversial term Rohingya. 

The plight of the Rohingya reached a critical point early last year when thousands of them stranded at sea and countries in the region had to come forward to help. 

Over the past 15 months, international agencies estimate that as many as 88,000 men, women, and children have traveled from Bangladesh and Burma in boats to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, said Human Rights Watch. 

Bangkok hosted the Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean in May and December while Malaysia hosted a similar one in April last year. Indonesia also hosted the region-wide Bali Process conference. 

At least 5,543 people who departed from Myanmar and Bangladesh managed to land in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand, between May 10 and July 30, 2015. Another 1,500 people departed from Myanmar and Bangladesh and landed in Thailand between September to December last year, said the report. 

About one-third of the boat people, or 2,688 Bangladeshis, who landed in May last year in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand have returned to Bangladesh under the IOM's Assisted Voluntary Return Programme and government agreements. 

However, a January-June 2016 report by the UN High Commission on Refugee released last month showed conflicting figures. 

Roughly 10% of those abandoned in May last year by smugglers in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman remain detained or in confined shelters, but the vast majority are either residing in refugee communities or have returned home, the UNHCR said. 

There have now been no large-scale mixed maritime movements in Southeast Asia since the events of May 2015, it said. 

Of the two-thirds of migrants, almost all have been repatriated. More than 600 of the refugees have been or are in the process of being resettled, including 47 particularly vulnerable migrants who departed for resettlement countries in the first half of 2016. 

"There is a small resettlement programme from Thailand for this group currently in immigration detention or government shelters, but the numbers are very small given the limited number of resettlement places around the world," said UNHCR spokeswoman Vivian Tan. 

Echoing Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk's call in Bangkok last December to allow asylum-seekers to contribute to the economies of the host countries, Chris Lewa, Arakan Project director, said Rohingya in Thailand are still kept in indefinite detention. 

"This is inhumane and unacceptable. Rohingya are stateless and fleeing persecution," said Ms Lewa. Attempting to send them back to Myanmar would also be refoulement, "but, most importantly, Myanmar would not readmit them", he said.

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