Ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur reach agreement during the Emergency ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime Concerning Irregular Movement of Persons in Southeast Asia.

KUALA LUMPUR: Ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed on Thursday (Jul 2) to set up a joint task force to combat transnational crime as well as a fund to help victims of human trafficking victims among member nations.

The agreement was reached during the Emergency ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime Concerning Irregular Movement of Persons in Southeast Asia (AMMTC) in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

Singapore became the first country to to offer its financial support of US$200,000. “We have asked the ASEAN Secretariat to set up the protocols and the process to enable such funds to be disbursed,” added Singapore’s Second Minister for Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli. “At the same time, we are asking all the ASEAN members to also contribute to this fund so that no single ASEAN member has to bear the burden alone.”

The AMMTC came amid the United Nations’ warning of the return of smugglers and human traffickers once the monsoon season ends.

“Traffickers and smugglers would be back in business unless steps are taken now to avoid those terrible things we have seen over the past month,” said Richard Towle, Malaysia’s UNHCR Representative.

ROHINGYA ISSUE SHOULD REMAIN WITHIN MYANMAR

During the meeting, Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said he was encouraged by the “unexpected” support from member countries against human smuggling.

Even Myanmar was seen to be stepping up its efforts to eradicate the problem. According to a senior police official, 36 smugglers have been arrested and most of them are Thai.

Still, Yangon insisted that the issues of the Rohingya is a domestic and political one and that it should remain outside the meeting.

“Myanmar would not like to discuss this,” said Soe Myaing, Myanmar Police Force’s transnational crime division chief. “That is Myanmar’s own issue.”

Respecting Myanmar’s position, ASEAN ministers participating in the meeting chose to focus on strengthening regional cooperation in law enforcement. “The meeting is not about politics. It is about fighting transnational crime,” said Mr Masagos. “We shouldn’t be involved in their domestic matter,” said the Malaysian Home Minister.

In May, the discovery of death camps and mass graves along the Thai-Malaysian border prompted Thailand to crack down on human trafficking syndicates. Fearing arrest, the syndicates abandonned its human cargo, leaving thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants at sea.

A large number of the migrants have been rescued by authorities from Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia after mounting pressure from the international community. Malaysia and Indonesia also pledged to provide temporary shelter for up to 7,000 migrants on condition that the international community resettles or repatriates them within a year.

– CNA/pp