Bali Island, Indonesia – Ministers and officials from 40 countries began a two-day meeting on the Indonesian resort island of Bali Tuesday to discuss people smuggling and the fate of migrants from Myanmar’s Rohingya ethnic group. The meeting, co-hosted by Indonesia and Australia, will discuss Asia-Pacific solutions to people smuggling and trafficking and ways to improve border security.
The conference follows the rescue of hundreds of boat people from Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority in Indian and Indonesian waters in December and earlier this year after they were allegedly abandoned at sea by Thai authorities in engineless boats.
The Rohingyas, a Bengali-speaking group who have been living in Myanmar’s Arakan, or Rakhine State, for generations, said they were fleeing persecution by the country’s junta and could be killed if they were returned.
Thailand has denied accusations it towed the migrants out to sea with little food and water.
The Myanmar government refuses to grant citizenship to the Muslim Rohingya on the grounds that they are not listed among the country’s 135 “official” minority groups.
“Recent boat arrivals to Australia and other countries in our region demonstrate that we are not immune from the conflict and insecurity that drives irregular movement,” Australian Immigration Minister Chris Evans said in a statement.
“Australia will continue to work with our partners to improve further border security and border management while at the same time ensuring appropriate support for displaced populations,” he said.
Australia has been a destination for asylum seekers from conflict-ravaged countries and the previous Australian government under prime minister John Howard was criticized for its tough stance on refugees.
Howard’s successor Kevin Rudd promised to adopt a more humane refugee policy when he was elected in 2007 but a report from the country’s human watchdog released in January said refugees continued to be held in poor conditions. (dpa)