Can an event be too big or too serious for the involvement of Asean, Southeast Asia's notoriously limp regional body? Quite possibly and the plight of the Rohingya boatpeople is a case in point. We are now in the height of the main annual sailing season, when winter calms the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea and allows a brief window for the stateless Muslim tribe to risk a crossing from Bangladesh and Myanmar to the shores of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Post's reports in recent weeks have revealed that about 1,000 have been towed out to sea and abandoned by the Thai army after washing ashore; hundreds have died. Hundreds more could still be at sea, yet to arrive. The fate of those that do make it will hang in the balance. They could be handed over to the police and allowed access to the United Nations' refugee agency. Or they might still find themselves secretly held by Thailand's feared army counter-insurgency body and pushed back out to sea. Thailand is investigating reports of abuses and expulsion, but has yet to definitely move against the army's new secret policy. The Thai government has stated that the problem is regional and long-term solutions can only be found on that basis. This is, in part, correct. The question is, how? The annual leaders' summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - delayed due to the closure of Bangkok's airports in December - is due to take place at the end of February. A natural opportunity for the region's top leaders to bang their heads together, perhaps? Think again. It is hard to find a metaphor to accurately describe the true bureaucratic horrors of the organisation, particularly when lives are at stake. Slow-moving, pompous and heads constantly in the sand, it can appear like a cross between a tortoise, an ostrich and Toad of Toad Hall. Then there is its much-vaunted culture of non-interference in fellow members' affairs. While Asean's four decades have seen relative peace among members in an otherwise dangerous region, it has been at the expense of anything remotely bold or fresh. Collectively, it puts off hard decisions, hiding behind the notion of consensus. Meetings can become numbing affairs that are all too often about nothing more than even more meetings. Myanmar, its youngest and most recalcitrant member, has shown itself to be a master of scuppering backroom progress, crying foul and interference at key moments. It is hard to imagine it acting otherwise when the Rohingya issue surfaces. The ruling junta made it clear how it views the tribe from its isolated Rakhine province in its first comments on the issue. A statement in junta mouthpiece papers promised vague 'measures', but only after noting that those migrants in Thailand may not be from Myanmar. In a chillingly Orwellian tone, it added: 'The Rohingya are not included in over 100 national races of the Union of Myanmar.' That was a sharp reminder of the reasons they are fleeing in the first place - statelessness and persecution, meaning Rohingya are not even free to move from village to village, or marry or easily find formal employment. Their plight is highlighted by the fact that tens of thousands of them have already fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, one of the region's poorest states and hardly the promised land for a refugee seeking a new life. Thailand has not yet ruled out raising the issue at Asean, but is also urgently seeking one-off, four-way talks with India, Bangladesh and the United Nations. Asean has its place, but has struggled to sharpen its role in an increasingly integrated region. And where lives are stake, it has all too often lost any sense of momentum to its standard glacial responses. All evidence suggests the Rohingya are fleeing and taking enormous risks for good reason. They deserve something better.