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    May 20, 2015

    Manila ready to shelter boat people


    THE Philippines said yesterday that it was ready to help the Rohingya and Bangladeshi boat people as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia faced outrage for turning them away.

    Indonesia might also stop shutting its door on the refugees, as experts and legislators floated suggestions on how the country could help, including opening one of its uninhabited islands to them, reported The Jakarta Post.

    The Philippines is obliged to help the migrants, many of whom are fleeing persecution, because it is party to the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said yesterday.

    "I think humanitarian consideration should transcend any other consideration. First thing is the humanitarian concern, saving lives," Ms de Lima said, after meeting the country representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

    Earlier on Monday, Ms de Lima said the Philippines is ready to shelter the boat people from Bangladesh and Myanmar if they land on the country's shores, reported The Philippine Daily Inquirer.

    It is not clear what help the Philippines would offer to those not anywhere near its territory.

    Nearly 3,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants have swum to shore or been rescued off Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand over the past week, with thousands more believed to be drifting on boats without food or water.

    The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar.

    Malaysia and Thailand have called on Myanmar to stem the flow of the Rohingya, but Myanmar has refused to take responsibility, claiming the group is composed of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

    The Philippines and Myanmar have been invited to attend a conference on the crisis to be hosted by Thailand on May 29, but both countries have yet to confirm their attendance.

    Bangladesh, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam, Australia and the United States are among 15 other countries that are attending the meeting.

    Ahead of talks with her Malaysian and Thai counterparts in Kuala Lumpur today, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi signalled that the crisis was the responsibility of the whole region, reported Agence France-Presse.

    Around half the new migrant arrivals have been in Indonesia's western province of Aceh.

    Ms Marsudi noted that Indonesia was currently hosting 12,000 migrants from more than 40 countries awaiting resettlement, adding: "What Indonesia has done is more than we should have...done."

    Indonesia, like Thailand and Malaysia, is not a signatory to the key UN convention that would oblige it to resettle a certain number of refugees.

    In a bid to spur greater action, the UNHCR, the UN chief's special representative for international migration and development, and the head of the International Organisation for Migration issued a joint plea yesterday, reported AFP.

    The statement said that more than 88,000 migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh had taken to the sea since last year, with 25,000 arriving in the first quarter of this year alone.

    "Nearly 1,000 are believed to have perished at sea due to the precarious conditions of the voyage, and an equal number because of mistreatment and privation at the hands of traffickers and abusive smugglers," it said. AGENCIES