Human traffickers are licking their lips as the world economic downturn pushes more people to migrate in search of work, Australia’s foreign minister told Asian ministers yesterday.
Stephen Smith told a gathering of ministers and high-level officials from more than 60 countries, mostly from the Asia-Pacific region, that the patterns of illegal migration were changing and the region had to keep up.
He also announced a new aid package for the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, hundreds of whom were set adrift in unseaworthy boats by the Thai military after illegally landing on Thai territory.
“The severe downturn in the world economy will push more migrants into the hands of people traffickers as they seek better lives abroad,” he said in a speech at the so-called Bali Process on people smuggling, people trafficking and related transnational crime.
“There has been a significant shift since 2003 in the circumstances driving people smuggling and trafficking within our region. This includes the security situation in countries like Afghanistan and Sri Lanka and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area,” he said.
Smith said he would discuss the Rohingya crisis that hit the region earlier this year with his counterparts from Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand.
Hundreds of migrants from Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority were rescued in Indian and Indonesian waters between December and February after being abandoned at sea with few provisions by the Thai military.
Scores are feared to have died as they drifted in open wooden boats for weeks before being rescued.
Thailand denies violating their human rights but has admitted it towed the migrants out to sea.
Smith said Australia would provide US$2.3 million in additional aid to the Rohingya people in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State to improve their living conditions and provide “better economic opportunities.”