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Surge of migrants fleeing Bangladesh and Myanmar

 Thousands of “irregular” migrants fleeing Bangladesh and Myanmar are expected to board boats for new countries in coming weeks as the end of the Asia’s south-west monsoon season reopening the Bay of Bengal sea route to south-east Asia.

 Rohingya migrant children who arrived in Indonesia by boat in May 2015. Photograph  Reuters.
In three years, the number of people boarding  boats leaving Myanmar and Bangladesh for countries further south in south-east Asia – has nearly tripled to 63,000 people last year.

Each year for the past three years, the post-monsoon spike in the number of people seeking to migrate irregularly by sea across the region has been higher and come earlier in the year.
A similar surge is expected this “sailing season”.  This  trend is likely to continue unless the root causes of their migration are addressed.
At least 1,000 people are missing from journeys in 2015, presumed to have died or drowned at sea
Efforts to rescue people might be complicated by the politics of south-east Asia. Only two countries, Cambodia and the Philippines, are parties to the Refugees Convention, which formalises protections for refugees and allows people to claim asylum.Many countries are expected to refuse to allow migrants  to disembark .

The UN’s $13m appeal for funds to respond to the maritime crisis is only 45% funded, and a multinational taskforce, agreed to by countries at a meeting in May, has not yet formed. With an emphasis on saving lives, UNHCR is asking countries to move beyond ad hoc disparate responses.
This is clearly an international  challenge that calls for  international cooperation and planning .
A multinational task force should be at work to address the problem comprehensively in countries of origin, transit and destination. We have seen in past years that reactive responses in the middle of a crisis are inadequate in the face of such extreme  circumstances.
Our Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, needs to be proactive in calling for and supporting such an approach.
For a more detailed account see Guardian Australia Oct 15th edition

Marlene Griffin

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