U.N. agency says Rohingya boat people crisis has eased



The boat people crisis on the Indian Ocean involving migrant and trafficked ethnic Rohingya people has eased for the time being, the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations agency, said last week, while cautioning that lasting solutions to the situation still need to be found.

“Humane and sustainable solutions,” are still a long way off, but the numbers of Rohingya taking to the seas has dropped steeply since the first half of 2015 when the crisis reached its peak, said the International Organization for Migration (IOM) of the United Nations. The IOM made the statement in its latest situation report on the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea Crisis released last week.

From the beginning of May through the end of July, at least 5,543 Rohingya took to the seas from Bangladesh and Myanmar attempting to reach third countries, compared with an estimated 25,000 from January through March 2015.

Thailand has played an important role in easing the crisis with its crackdown on human trafficking and its organizing and promotion of regional efforts to find a solution to the ongoing tragedy. The Thai government launched a robust suppression campaign against transnational human trafficking syndicates. The authorities arrested over 150 suspects, and are pursuing roughly another 100. Earlier this year, a massive trial of about 90 suspects began in Bangkok. Among those on trial are military and police officers, bureaucrats and local politicians, and criminal syndicate members.

Last year, as thousands of Rohingya languished on boats and ships on the Indian Ocean, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha organized two regional forums to try and develop approaches to dealing with the crisis. Various countries marshaled their resources in relief efforts and accepted some of the boat people.

Stepped up enforcement on land and sea by Thailand and other countries has kept the traffickers at bay, but many analysts believe the syndicates are biding their time and waiting for new opportunities to restart their criminal activity.

The missing elements in creating a permanent end to the crisis are solving the root causes of the problem in the countries of origin, and getting third countries to accept more of the trafficking victims and migrants.

“There is a small resettlement program from Thailand for [Rohingya] currently in shelters, but the numbers are very small given the limited number of resettlement places around the world,” said United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman Vivian Tan.

The United Nations has called the Rohingya “one of the world’s most persecuted people.” The domestic conflicts driving them to migrate have yet to be addressed in a meaningful and effective way. Most Rohingya leave Bangladesh and Myanmar and try to reach Malaysia or Indonesia, many are either washed ashore on Thailand.