World / Asia-Pacific

US says need to save lives as Asia migrant crisis talks begin

(Agencies) Updated: 2015-05-29 13:40


US says need to save lives as Asia migrant crisis talks begin

US Assistant Secretary of State Anne Clair Richard (C) speaks with Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister General Tanasak Patimapragorn (2nd L) and other delegates during the opening ceremony of the Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean at a hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, May 29, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

BANGKOK - The United States said on Friday that thousands of vulnerable migrants adrift in Southeast Asian seas needed urgent rescue, as Myanmar told a regional meeting on the crisis that it was not to blame.

More than 3,000 migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar have landed in Indonesia and Malaysia since Thailand launched a crackdown on human trafficking gangs this month. About 2,600 are believed to be still adrift in boats, relief agencies have said.

"We have to save lives urgently," US Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard told reporters on her way into the meeting at a Bangkok hotel.

The gathering brings together 17 countries from across the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and elsewhere in Asia, along with the United States, Switzerland and international bodies such as the UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency.

"More than ever, we need a concerted effort by all countries concerned," Thailand's Foreign Minister General Tanasak Patimapragorn told the meeting, in an opening address. "It needs both Thai and international cooperation to solve the problem comprehensively."

He summarised the gathering's three objectives as being: first, to provide humanitarian assistance; then to combat the long-term problems of people smuggling; and finally to address the root causes of the problem.

Some participants have cautioned that the meeting was unlikely to produce a binding agreement or plan of action.

Many attendees are not ministerial-level and may not have the heft that organisers in Bangkok hoped for.

According to the Thai Foreign Ministry, at least three of the countries central to the crisis were not sending ministers: Myanmar, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Myanmar, the country of origin of many of the migrants, said it could not be held responsible for the crisis.

"You cannot single out my country," Htein Lin, director general at Myanmar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and head of the country's delegation said in his opening remarks. "In the influx of migration, Myanmar is not the only country."

The region was suffering from a human trafficking problem, he said, and Myanmar would cooperate with regional and international efforts to find "practical mechanisms" to deal with human trafficking.

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