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Some of the 116 Bangladeshi fortune-seekers, who were rescued from a Malaysia-bound trawler off the St Martin's Island coast by the Coastguard and handed over to Teknaf police in Cox's Bazar yesterday morning.

Save migrants drifting in sea

Countries in Southeast Asia, notably Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, came under mounting pressure from the international community to provide humane treatment to thousands of Bangladeshi and Rohingya boat people, The Nation, agencies report. Thailand and Malaysia, which were downgraded to the lowest Tier 3 of the US report on Trafficking in Persons last year, were blamed for having shown little appetite to provide shelter to them while thousands of them reportedly were abandoned floating in the sea.

Malaysia said it would not accept any new Rohingya arrivals after 1,158 immigrants were found on the shores of Langkawi on Monday. Malaysia’s deputy home minister, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said his country would use tough measures, including turning back asylum-seeker boats and deportation in order to send the “right message”. “We don’t want them to come here,” the deputy minister was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

“Malaysia has been showing good human faith, which entices people to come here,” Malaysia’s The Star quoted Wan Junaidi as saying. The Indonesian navy towed a boat carrying hundreds of migrants from Myanmar out of its national waters, an official said on Tuesday. The boat drifted into Indonesian territory near the Malacca Straits early on Monday, navy spokesman Manahan Simorangkir said. “We towed the boat out of Indonesian waters after giving them food and drinks,” he said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 25,000 people were estimated to have departed Bangladesh and Myanmar via the Bay of Bengal to Southeast Asia since October last year. Some managed to land while the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said some 8,000 are still at sea.

“UNHCR appeals to governments to continue their life-saving operations to find and safely disembark the passengers, many of whom are believed to be in a weakened state after days, possibly weeks with little food and water,” UNHCR Spokesman Adrian Edwards said in a statement from Geneva.

It also urged against indefinite detention of those rescued, who should be given access to basic rights and services including family unification, shelter, health care and, where possible, the right to work while longer-term solutions are sought. The United States yesterday voiced fears for the lives of the hundreds of migrants abandoned by traffickers at land and sea, calling on Southeast Asian nations to co-operate to address the crisis.

Most migrants were making the journey “because of the dire humanitarian and economic situations they face at home and/or out of fear of ethnic and religious violence”, a spokeswoman at the US Embassy told AFP. “This is a regional challenge that needs to be addressed regionally, through a coordinated international effort and in accordance with international conventions and maritime law,” she added.

Matthew Smith, executive director of Thailand-based rights body, Fortify Rights, termed it a grave humanitarian crisis demanding an immediate rescue and protection to the asylum seekers and trafficking survivors, not drive them back out to sea. Governments in the region and the international community should commit financial and technical resources to facilitate a coordinated response, he said in a statement.

Regional meeting on May 29

Thailand will host a regional meeting on May 29 on ways to tackle human trafficking through the Bay of Bengal, Thai foreign ministry said Tuesday. “The special meeting is an urgent call for the region to… work together to address the unprecedented increase of irregular migration,” the ministry said in a statement, according to Bangkok Post. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had called for a summit on the problem to be attended by the heads of the regional governments, but it received no response.

Instead, senior officials from Myanmar, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia will join representatives from Australia, Cambodia, Laos, the United States, Vietnam and others at the one-day “Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean” in Bangkok, the ministry said.

Three suspects held in Thailand

Thai police yesterday arrested three men they said were instrumental in operating the Satun-based Rohingya trafficking ring led by former local politician Pajjuban Angchotephan, who is still on the run. One of them was arrested in neighbouring Ranong province and two others in Satun. Police did not immediately identify the men until after an evening press conference. Pajjuban has reportedly fled to Malaysia’s Langkawi, while Thai police are seeking cooperation from their Malaysian counterparts to hunt them down.

A police commander, Pol Maj-General Somchai Nittayaworrabutr, said Ranong-based assets belonging to local suspects worth around Bt100 million were liable for seizure. He said Thai authorities were seeking cooperation from Myanmar authorities to hunt down suspects fleeing across the Thai border.

Police have obtained arrest warrants for another 11 suspects in addition to 51 wanted. A police source identified some of the latest 11 as Sia Angchotephan, the chairman of tourism industry on Koh Li Pe off Satun, a relative of Pajjuban; Malay Tohdin, the chief of Tambon Poo Yoo administrative organisation; Wut Wutpradit; Anas Hajimasae.

A man identified as Abu Hasura, a councillor of Khone Don district, and a close aide to Pajjuban, has been arrested.

A Ranong-based suspect, Piyawat Phongthai known by the alias of Ko Yong, yesterday turned himself in to the police. Police said that Piyawat was working in the same trafficking ring with Suwan Saengthong, or Ko Nui, who had surrendered and was in custody.

As per the daily Region 9 police briefing, there were 312 migrants under government care, 63 of whom have been identified as victims of trafficking and 249 as illegal entrants. A total of seven detention camps, comprising 111 buildings, have been discovered in jungles and on Khao Kaew in Songkhla.

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