My Take

Asia must act on the refugee crisis

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 May, 2015, 12:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 May, 2015, 12:54am

The unfolding refugee crises in Europe and Asia are heart-wrenching to watch.

Until this month, we Asians thought it was primarily a European Union problem. People are fleeing deadly conflicts and persecution from war-torn Syria, Eritrea, Libya and Somalia, though no doubt some are also economic migrants.

The Europeans were widely condemned for letting hundreds drown in the Mediterranean before finally taking action.

Now, it's us Asians' turn to be condemned. Thailand and Malaysia have been repairing and re-supplying the collapsing boats of asylum-seekers and economic migrants fleeing Myanmar and Bangladesh before sending them back into the other territorial waters. Yet, such callous actions have mostly escaped condemnations from most western countries because Europe has been acting equally disgracefully.

The US has voiced criticisms, though it is in no position to talk as its invasion of Iraq has created the greatest if unreported refugee problem in modern Middle East and many of current instabilities in the region can be traced back to that single fiasco.

The United Nations have finally called attention to the refugee crisis in Asia.

At least the EU is now developing a three-pronged agenda to coordinate a more effective, humane and ethical response among its member states. Asean countries plus three of their closest observers - the cash-rich China, South Korea and Japan - must coordinate a similar agenda. This is a rare chance to show the world Asian countries can be pro-active, cooperative and humane as responsible international players.

The priority should be to secure the safety of the refugees.

Nations need to step up rescue efforts, target human-smuggling and agree to spread the burden of taking in refugees equitably. Many if not most refugees will have to be kept in camps, probably for the long haul, before their final status and destination could be determined.

Meanwhile, as Myanmar is trying to integrate itself into the Asean and US orbits, international pressure must be brought on to reverse its brutal persecution of the Rohingya minority people.