Saving people

Wednesday, 13 May 2015 01:04 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

THE challenges faced by Sri Lanka’s Government are many and varied. However, it also has the added responsibility of making sure the reduction of boatpeople remains consistent as the rest of the world battles with a higher wave of illegal migrants seeking economic and political refuge.    

Southeast Asian governments are facing international appeals to rescue thousands of migrants believed to be stranded at sea without food and water, with warnings that many may die if action is not taken, international media have reported.

The escalating alarm over the region’s refugee crisis came as Indonesia’s navy said it had turned away a boat carrying hundreds of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh to an uncertain fate. Nearly 2,000 boatpeople from Myanmar and Bangladesh have swum ashore, been rescued or intercepted off Malaysia and Indonesia in recent days after Thailand - a key stop on human-smuggling routes - launched a crackdown on the trade.

The Arakan Project, a Rohingya rights group, has said as many as 8,000 people may be adrift and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said search and rescue operations are urgently needed.

Thousands of impoverished Muslim Rohingya - a minority unwanted by Myanmar’s Government - and Bangladeshis undertake a perilous sea and land trafficking route through Thailand and into Malaysia every year.

The recent wave of arrivals on Malaysian and Indonesian shores is believed to be caused by human smugglers dumping their cargo as Thailand has moved to crush the trade after discovering dozens of migrant remains in secret jungle camps earlier this month.

But it also is feared that the crackdown may have left thousands of desperate migrants on rickety boats with no food and water as traffickers search for new routes to evade authorities.

Across the world the European Union (EU) foreign policy chief appealed for UN backing for Europe’s plan to confront the Mediterranean migrant crisis by using military force against smugglers.

The EU foreign policy chief addressed the UN Security Council as it prepares to endorse a controversial European Union plan aimed at stemming a record tide of refugees making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.

This year alone more than 1,800 people have drowned when boats run by migrant smugglers have capsized in the Mediterranean, a 20-fold increase over the same period last year. Already 2015 is shaping up as the deadliest ever for refugees seeking to reach Europe through the Mediterranean.

Sri Lanka’s own outflow of boat people, predominantly to Australia, has reduced significantly over the past year. Admittedly this is more because of the Australian Government’s efforts to divert boat people to other countries such as Papua New Guinea and its latest recruit Cambodia as well as strong local campaigns discouraging potential people.

Most boat people were lured by economic reasons rather than political ones, though there was no shortage of the latter. The new Government’s attempt to foster reconciliation, roll back suppression and improve law and order is likely to promote political rights, especially among minorities. But it still faces huge challenges in achieving sustainable growth to reduce the incentive of greener pastures. With a private sector awaiting direction from the Government, wrapping up major reform and getting back to business is becoming increasingly important as the weeks slip by.