IOM Sees Progress in SE Asia Migrant Crisis, But Warns More Must be Done

IOM is increasing its staff at four centres in Indonesia where the boat people are being housed, providing medical and psycho-social assistance, food and water, shelter and non-food relief items. © IOM/Akmal Haris 2105

Indonesia - The migrant crisis in Southeast Asia has entered a new phase, with over half of those originally estimated to be at sea now on dry land, some for the first time in almost four months.

IOM welcomed the positive statement made by Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand on Wednesday (20/5), but says there is still much to be done.

“Regardless of the excellent humanitarian gestures from the countries directly affected, there are still thousands of highly vulnerable people at sea,” said IOM Director General William Lacy Swing. “Every hour that they are at sea is an hour too long. That is why our clarion call is for them to be found, rescued, brought to shore and given the urgent, life-saving care that they need.”

Consolidated government/IOM figures released late yesterday showed that over 3,600 people had disembarked in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh. Just under half are from Bangladesh; the remainder claim to be Rohingya.

Regional governments, IOM, UN agencies, the US government and other concerned parties are due to meet in Bangkok on May 29th to discuss the Indian Ocean migration crisis.

The meeting is expected to address long-term solutions for migrants and asylum seekers, in accordance with the conditions put in place by the three affected governments of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. It will also look at how trafficking and people smuggling in the region can be halted.

“IOM’s view is, and has always been, that the source, transit and destination countries have to cooperate to protect the vulnerable and prosecute the smugglers, who are no more than peddlers of misery and death,” said Ambassador Swing.

“However, this has to be backed up with enlightened development policies and legal migration to allow every human being to provide for themselves and their families,” he added.

IOM has begun to dramatically increase its presence in centres where the boat people have been housed in Indonesia, with 25 staff already at four centres, providing medical and psycho-social assistance, food and water, shelter and non-food relief items. 

As the operation intensifies, IOM will continue first aid and health screening on arrival for any injured or sick migrants, as well as providing water, food, shelter and live-saving assistance.

The organization will also provide transport to reception centers, as well a full range of services within these centers. This will include Assisted Voluntary Return to their home countries and reintegration for those who request it.

“IOM guarantees to be part of the long-term solution to this long-running saga, which this week has pricked the conscience of the world,” said Ambassador Swing. “But without an immediate surge in search and rescue there will – tragically – be no long term for these desperate, marooned migrants.”


An estimated 58,000 people are believed to have undertaken dangerous, irregular migration by boat across the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea in 2014. Another 25,000 joined them in the first quarter of 2015.

They were part of a mixed migratory movement that included asylum-seekers, stateless people and economic migrants. Unregulated and until recently inconspicuous, the scale of the movement has tripled since 2012 and the abuse of voyagers has become increasingly grotesque.

Men, women and children risked being starved, constrained, beaten and forcibly separated. Women and girls are particularly at risk of rape and sexual violence.

Often ashore, but recently also on board smugglers’ boats, migrants have been detained and held for ransom, with smugglers extorting on average USD 2,000 each from their families. Non-payment could be fatal.

What may have begun as a voluntary journey was transformed into something no one would choose. The number of deaths is unknown, but is likely higher than the 1.2 per cent estimated to perish of disease or mistreatment at sea or in clandestine smuggling camps.

IOM also estimates that 1.9 per cent of migrants undertaking this perilous journey developed beriberi – a vitamin B1 deficiency that if left untreated can lead to death. 

The widely publicized discovery of numerous graves in smuggling camps in Southern Thailand last month prompted a crackdown on smuggling networks, confirming the brutal conditions that were widely suspected. 

For further information please contact IOM HQ: Leonard Doyle Tel: , Email:  or Joel Millman, Tel: , Email: Or Joe Lowry at IOM’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok (in Aceh, Indonesia from Monday) Tel.: +66.81 870 8081, Email: