Stimson in the News

R. Cronin & C. Weatherby’s report on Southeast Asia refugee boat crisis cited in Eurasia Review

in Program

In the second half of May 2015, a refugee boat crisis unfolded in the Andaman Sea in Southeast Asia, almost in parallel with the refugee boat crisis in the Mediterranean. Together, both crises highlight security and humanitarian implications for the greater wave of refugee crises that can be expected to occur in the future. Since the middle of May 2015, over 3,000 refugees who had been cast adrift in the Andaman Sea by human traffickers have been temporarily resettled in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, with an estimated 2,600 awaiting rescue. Most of these refugees are Rohingya asylum seekers from Myanmar, with the remainder being economic migrants from Bangladesh.1

The UNHCR estimates that 88,000 Rohingya asylum seekers and Bangladeshi economic migrants have crossed the Andaman Sea through human trafficking networks since early 2014, with 25,000 of them having left in the first quarter of 2015.2 The number of refugees making the journey tripled in 2012 when anti-Rohingya persecution intensified in Myanmar. An estimated 1,000 refugees have lost their lives in the passage, with 300 of them having perished in the first half of 2015. An unknown number have died in detention camps operated by the traffickers that held the refugees for ransom, as was been highlighted by the grisly discovery of mass graves of the trafficked victims.3 As it turned out, the profits to the traffickers don’t come from the price of passage, which is usually low or even free. Instead, the traffickers extract their profits from the exorbitant ransoms paid by the families of the trafficked individuals. This aspect of the human traffickers’ business plan was revealed when their trafficking networks were unexpectedly disrupted by the Thai government in mid-May 2015, leading the traffickers to abandon their jungle camps and disable their boats, leaving their human cargo to perish in the open water.4

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