Burma said Friday that it won’t be singled out for blame for Southeast Asia’s migrant crisis at a regional conference on the issue in Bangkok.
Burmese foreign ministry chief Htin Lynn said “this issue of illegal migration of boat people, you cannot single out my country.
“Finger-pointing will not serve any purpose. It will take us nowhere.”
He said Burma (Myanmar) would cooperate with international efforts to alleviate the crisis, though his comments appeared to be a direct rebuke to the opening statement of UNHCR’s Volker Turk.
Turk had earlier called for action from Burma in stemming the flow of migrants, saying it “will require full assumption of responsibility by Myanmar to all its people”.
In his opening remarks, Thai Foreign Minister Thanasak Patimaprakorn said the influx of boat people migrants in Southeast Asia has reached an “alarming level” and called on governments to address the root causes of the crisis.
Representatives of 17 countries affected by “irregular migration in the Indian Ocean” are attending, as well as representatives from the UN, the US, Japan and Switzerland. All 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries are attending.
More than 3,500 Bangladeshi and Rohingya Muslim migrants have come ashore in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand in recent weeks, with thousands more believed to be trapped at sea in rickety boats, after fleeing persecution in Burma. Mass graves with the bodies of suspected trafficking victims have been found at camps on the Thai-Malaysian border.
Many observers say a binding agreement is unlikely, with many countries already making clear that they are not willing to accept the migrants. Malaysia and Indonesia have offered them temporary asylum, but have called for an international solution.
Burma (Myanmar) is attending, after hinting earlier this month that it would not be sending a representative. However, it is expected to take little or no action on the crisis.
“We are going there only to discuss the regional crisis which all of the ASEAN countries are facing,” Htein Lin, head of Burma’s delegation, told Reuters.
Burma does not allow Rohingya Muslims to hold citizenship.
Pressure has been mounting on Burma’s opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to address the migrant crisis and ease their plight in her country.
A number of Nobel Peace Prize winners have called for an end to persecution of Rohingya Thursday, but Suu Kyi has so far remained silent.
This week fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate the Dalai Lama urged her to end her silence and help protect the Rohingya.
The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, told The Australian newspaper that he has discussed the issue with Suu Kyi twice.
She “told me she found some difficulties, that things were not simple but very complicated,” he was quoted as saying. “But in spite of that I feel she can do something.”
Meanwhile, Thailand has agreed to allow the U.S. military to operate flights out of Thailand to search for migrants stuck on boats.
So far the U.S. Navy flights have been operating out of Subang, Malaysia, while the U.S. waited for permission from Thailand.
Thanasak, speaking on the sidelines of Friday’s meeting, said the approval had been given and the U.S. can begin operations.
Additional reporting from Associated Press