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Thailand calls May 29 regional summit on migrant crisis

Update: May, 13/2015 - 11:02

BANGKOK — Thailand will host a May 29 regional summit on the flow of migrants through the Bay of Bengal, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday, as it grapples with an "unprecedented" human trafficking crisis.

Hundreds of boat people have arrived on Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian soil since May 1, when the discovery of mass graves believed to belong to Bangladeshi and Myanmar migrants in southern Thailand prompted a crackdown on trafficking and smugglers to abandon their cargo.

Thai authorities say they cannot stem the flow of the migrants making dangerous sea journeys from Bangladesh and Myanmar without regional help.

"The special meeting is an urgent call for the region to... work together to address the unprecedented increase of irregular migration," the Thai foreign ministry said in a statement.

"Countries of origin, transit and destination must work together to address the problem," the statement said, adding that included tackling the "root causes".

The one-day meeting in Bangkok will include officials from 15 countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Myanmar as well as Australia and the United States.

Many of those who make the perilous sea journey through the Bay of Bengal come from the Muslim Rohingya minority - a marginalised group living in impoverished western Myanmar and a wedge of coastal land in neighbouring Bangladesh.

Meanwhile in Langkawi, Malaysia, a top coast guard official said Malaysia will turn away boats bearing desperate migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh unless they are in imminent danger of sinking,.

"The policy has always been to escort them out of Malaysian waters after giving them the necessary provisions," First Admiral Tan Kok Kwee of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency said on Wednesday on the resort island of Langkawi.

More than 1,000 exhausted and starving migrants have abandoned people-smuggling boats and swum to Langkawi in recent days, with hundreds of others also reaching nearby Indonesia.

Indonesia's navy said on Tuesday it had turned away a vessel packed with hundreds of migrants.

Southeast Asia is grappling with a migrant crisis after a Thai crackdown on a thriving people-smuggling trade severely disrupted trafficking routes, leaving overcrowded vessels with nowhere to go and passengers at risk of starvation and disease. — AFP

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