BANGKOK (AFP) - Myanmar’s delegate to talks in Bangkok on Southeast Asia’s migrant crisis on Friday rebuked the UN’s refugee agency for calling on the country to recognise the Muslim Rohingya minority as citizens to stem their exodus from its shores.
On “this issue of illegal migration of boat people, you cannot single out my country,” Myanmar's Foreign Ministry Director-General Htin Lynn said in stern response to a UNHCR plea to address the root causes of the ongoing migration crisis including the statelessness issue.
In his opening remarks to a meeting with 17 countries and other agencies, Volker Turk, UNHCR assistant high commissioner for protection, urged Myanmar to tackle the flow of Rohingya southwards, where they have arrived in thousands on the shores of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
To address the root causes of the exodus “will require full assumption of responsibility by Myanmar to all its people,” he said. “Granting of citizenship is the ultimate goal.”
Myanmar denies citizenship to the majority of its 1.3 million Rohingya and does not accept them as one of its official ethnic minorities, instead calling them “Bengalis” – shorthand for foreigners from neighbouring Bangladesh.
Myanmar rejects any internationalisation of the issue of the status of the Muslim minority, since communal violence in 2012 between Rohingya and the Buddhist majority in western Rakhine State brought their plight to the fore.
The Myanmar delegate called Volker’s comments a “politicisation” of the migrant subject, adding that “some issues” are internal.
Around 3,500 starving migrants, mainly Rohingya as well as poor Bangladeshis, have made shore in Southeast Asia since the start of the month, when a Thai crackdown on people smuggling disrupted a well-worn route southwards from the Bay of Bengal.