By SAW YAN NAING
The issue of Rohingya boatpeople is still unsettled following the completion of a two-day regional conference on illegal migration issues held in Bali, Indonesia, as Burmese officials continue to reject the Rohingya as their citizens, according to experts who attended the meeting.
“The meeting did not address any proper solution for the Rohingya. We have to see what the ‘working group’ will be doing,” said Chris Lewa, an expert on Rohingya issues, referring to a group consisting of Burma, Thailand, Indonesia and Bangladesh, which agreed to continue to work together to resolve the issue.
The four countries discussed the Rohingya situation on the sidelines of the two-day Third Bali Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Human Trafficking and Related Transnational Crimes, held in Bali from April 14-15, but failed to reach an agreement, said Lewa.
The main stumbling block was the refusal of Burmese police chief Brig-Gen Khin Yi, who attended the Bali meeting as a representative of the country’s military government, to recognize the Rohingya as Burmese citizens. He also denied that they were persecuted by the junta.
“The response from the police chief was … the traditional response of Myanmar [Burma] not to accept the notion of citizenship,” Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith was quoted as saying in a report by The Sydney Morning Herald.
However, some observers at the meeting, which was attended by 41 Asia-Pacific country members, 19 observing countries and 13 international organizations, said that it was a positive sign that Burma had agreed to discuss the Rohingya issue at an international forum for the first time.
Other countries have also agreed to do more to deal with the plight of the Rohingya, which attracted world attention earlier this year when the Thai Navy arrested more than 1,200 Rohingya boatpeople and allegedly towed them out to sea and set them adrift in engineless boats with little food or water.
“Thailand has confirmed that they will not push them back out to sea,” said Lewa.
Australia will also provide $3.2 million in additional funds for humanitarian assistance to Rohingyas living in western Burma’s Arakan State in order to improve their living circumstances and provide them with better economic opportunities.
Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations also agreed that the issue is a regional problem and should be resolved through the Bali Process, which is an international agreement on human trafficking.