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Southeast Asia: Put rights at center of boat people summit

Human Rights Watch Statement - May 27, 2015

"Regional governments should work with the United Nations and others to agree on binding solutions to this human tragedy not sweep it under the rug as they have done for years. The ending of human rights abuses in the source countries of Burma and Bangladesh needs to be matched by Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, with support from other countries, taking humanitarian action to receive and protect refugees fleeing persecution." Brad Adams, Asia director

Bangkok Governments gathering in Bangkok on May 29, 2015, to discuss the Southeast Asia boat people crisis should reach binding agreements to save people at sea, permit them to disembark without conditions, and ensure unimpeded access for United Nations agencies to protect the rights of asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said today.

The governments should also demand that Burma and Bangladesh take specific steps to end human rights abuses against the Rohingya that are causing them to flee on dangerous boats to escape persecution.

The Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean will include representatives from 17 countries, including Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Lao PDR, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Thailand, with observers from the United States and Switzerland, and senior officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

"Regional governments should work with the United Nations and others to agree on binding solutions to this human tragedy not sweep it under the rug as they have done for years," said Brad Adams, Asia director. "The ending of human rights abuses in the source countries of Burma and Bangladesh needs to be matched by Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, with support from other countries, taking humanitarian action to receive and protect refugees fleeing persecution."

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. Many of these are Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Burma, although a significant number are also Bangladeshi nationals. Most have traveled in boats to Thailand, where they are then transported overland into jungle camps in Thailand and Malaysia. The camps are used as holding facilities in which victims are detained, extorted, and abused, with mass graves found in recent weeks on both sides of the border of Thailand and Malaysia.

Human Rights Watch urges participating governments in the special meeting to prioritize the following issues:

"This regional meeting will only be a success if every government commits to effective search and rescue operations, meeting the protection needs of refugees, prosecuting traffickers, and resolving the root causes that drive these desperate people onto boats," Adams said. "International burden sharing, including resettling refugees, is also important, but will only be a lasting solution if all governments agree that human rights must be at the center of all current and future policies."

Source: https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/05/27/southeast-asia-put-rights-center-boat-people-summit.

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