Shanmugam: Asean needs to tackle Rohingya issue together, and deal with the root causes

Rohingya Muslims from Banglades, rescued by the Myanmar navy, sit inside buildings at a temporary refugee camp in the village of Aletankyaw in the Maungdaw township of northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, on May 23, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA
Rohingya Muslims from Banglades, rescued by the Myanmar navy, sit inside buildings at a temporary refugee camp in the village of Aletankyaw in the Maungdaw township of northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, on May 23, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA

SINGAPORE - Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Saturday called on Asean to play a more active role in dealing with the problem, adding that the East Asia Summit (EAS) is a good platform to do so.

This comes after Malaysia and Indonesia offered, on Wednesday, to provide temporary shelter to the migrants. The two countries had, along with Thailand, called on the international community to contribute the necessary support needed to address the Rohingya issue.

Mr Shanmugam said Singapore has offered US$200,000 (S$267,000) to relief efforts. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said the initial sum, given through Asean, will support the region's efforts in helping the refugees. Singapore may offer more help if there are specific requests, the ministry added.

Mr Shanmugam said the Rohingya issue had to be tackled on two levels.

"One, the people already in the boat, how do we help them."

But the more fundamental issue, he said, is to deal with the conditions in Myanmar and the criminal organisations involved in trafficking.

"That is an even more serious problem because potentially you can have thousands of people being subjected to this," said Mr Shanmugam. "If we don't deal with that, and just deal with trying to help people already in the boats and try and get them into shelter, there will be an endless stream (of migrants) and none of us will be able to cope with that."

He was speaking to reporters at Changi Airport, before leaving to New Zealand, as the country marks the 50th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations with Singapore. Mr Shanmugam will be accompanied by MFA officers, and will meet New Zealand's Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully, Minister of Justice, Courts, Broadcasting and Communications Amy Adams, and Leader of the Labour Party Andrew Little while he is there.