UN agency welcomes new proposals by Southeast Asian States on region’s refugee and migrant issues

Fishing boats head out into the Bay of Bengal. UNHCR fears thousands could be stranded on smugglers’ boats between the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca and in need of rescue. Photo: UNHCR/S. H. Omi

Fishing boats head out into the Bay of Bengal. UNHCR fears thousands could be stranded on smugglers’ boats between the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca and in need of rescue. Photo: UNHCR/S. H. Omi

Southeast Asia, 3 July 2015 – The United Nations refugee agency today welcomed proposals by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to set up a task force and trust fund to respond to the irregular movement of refugees and migrants in the region.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), recommendations were made during yesterday’s Emergency ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on “Transnational Crime Concerning Irregular Movement of Persons in Southeast Asia” held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – the latest in a series of regional meetings to respond to the “boat crisis” that has seen thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi nationals stranded at sea in May this year.

More than 4,800 people have been disembarked in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand. Hundreds are still unaccounted for, although many could have landed discreetly in recent weeks.

“We fully support law enforcement actions against smuggling and trafficking,” said James Lynch, UNHCR’s Regional Representative and Regional Coordinator for South-East Asia.

“Border security must be strengthened alongside the protection of human rights, including those of refugees. We need to ensure that victims receive prompt assistance and protection, and that alternatives to detention are found for people seeking asylum, especially children.”

UNHCR reaffirmed that it stands ready to share its technical expertise in screening and seeking solutions for refugees, and to help mobilize support for ASEAN’s commendable efforts to address this regional challenge.