Sydney, Australia (BBN)-Australia has offered another $5 million in humanitarian aid to potential illegal migrant populations in Bangladesh and Myanmar.
The new aid was announced Friday to coincide with the Bangkok special conference on irregular migration in the Indian Ocean, called to formulate short and long-term solutions to this month’s onrush of boat-people, reports Australia-based daily The Australian.
More than 3,500 Rohingya and Bangladeshi people have landed in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand since early March.
Those governments fear 7,000 more might be still out in the ocean but international agencies revised the likely numbers down to 2,700 this week.
“Today we announce an additional $5 million in humanitarian assistance to Burma’s Rakhine State and the Cox’s Bazar region of Bangladesh, building on the $6 million for humanitarian assistance to Burma announced last week,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said in a statement.
“It brings Australia’s total humanitarian assistance to Burma to over $20 million since 2012.
“Australia remains committed to playing our part to address this regional challenge and has provided over $170 million since 2000 through the International Organization for Migration for victims of people smuggling in Indonesia.”
Most of the Bangladeshi illegal “labour migrants” leave for Malaysia, via Thailand, from Cox’s Bazar, while the stateless Rohingyas are mostly being driven out of Rakhine State by Buddhist majority persecution and repressive government measures.
Australia is represented at the Bangkok conference by a delegation headed by Canberra’s ambassador for people smuggling matters Andrew Goledzinowski.
However the Abbott government has come under strong criticism in the region for its lack of engagement with the current crisis, highlighted by the Prime Minister’s “nope, nope, nope” response to calls for Australia to admit more Rohingyas to ease the burden on the three frontline countries.
Thailand’s Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimaprakorn, after opening today’s conference, declined to criticise Australia, saying he was there to “commend not condemn” and different countries would assist in different ways.
General Thanasak told the conference _ involving 17 countries including Australia that “no country can solve this problem alone”.
“The influx of irregular migrants in the Indian Ocean has reached an alarming level.
“While we are trying to help those in need, we must stop the outflow of irregular migrants and combat transnational crime and destroy their networks.”
He added that: “The root causes that motivated these people to leave must also be addressed”.
Thailand launched a crackdown on human trafficking on May 1, prompting smugglers to abandon their boats and leave thousands of migrants stranded at sea.
Human rights groups have urged those involved in the talks to find a better way of saving those still stranded at sea, and to put pressure on Myanmar to end its repressive policies against Rohingyas.
Malaysia and Indonesia agreed last week to provide the Rohingya with one-year shelter.
Thailand has offered humanitarian help but not shelter. The Bangladeshis are to be repatriated, “hopefully in a month or so” according to their government.