With the monsoon season and Muslim festival of sacrifice Eid al-Adha over, thousands of refugees looking to leave Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh are expected to board fishing boats and travel through the Bay of Bengal-Andaman Sea to countries in southeast Asia.
The United Nations says 63,000 people took that route last year, and the number is rising annually. "That trend is likely to continue unless the root causes [for their migration] are addressed," Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told The Guardian Australia. In the first half of 2015, 31,000 people boarded boats, up 34 percent from 2014. They pay $50 to $300 a person for passage, and many have been abandoned at sea, left on remote islands, or imprisoned in secret jungle camps, The Guardian reports. Thousands of others are believed missing at sea, and in May, 8,000 refugees were stranded on boats because countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand would not let them come ashore or towed their boats back to sea.
Many are leaving Bangladesh for economic reasons or to escape political violence, and the Burmese Rohingya, an ethnic minority, face "intense apartheid-style persecution" in Myanmar, The Guardian reports. Just two countries in the region, Cambodia and the Philippines, are part of the Refugees Convention, which protects refugees and allows people to claim asylum. "This is a regional challenge that calls for regional solutions," Tan said. "With an emphasis on saving lives, UNHCR is asking countries to move beyond ad hoc, disparate responses which could allow smugglers to exploit gaps. Instead, they should work together to address the problem comprehensively in countries of origin, transit, and destination."