International Reconnecting Families Bulletin: Andaman Sea Migrant Crisis

Situation: Since May 1, 2015, when camps and burial sites of migrants were discovered in South Thailand, a crack-down was initiated on the smuggling and trafficking networks in Malaysia and Thailand. As a result, several boats with hundreds of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh were left stranded at sea in a dire humanitarian situation. Hundreds of Rakhine Muslims (Myanmar) and Bangladeshis made the journey from their respective locations to Malaysia, usually through Thailand.

International pressure led authorities from Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand to allow the migrants to disembark in their territory.   As of today, those countries have had hundreds to more than a thousand migrant arrivals.  Following the arrival of the migrants, different measures have been taken, ranging from sending them to Immigration Detention Centers (IDC) and/or shelters in Malaysia and Thailand, to temporary shelters and facilities in Indonesia.  In Myanmar, authorities have taken charge of organizing the disembarkation of boats stranded off their shores into Rakhine state. In Bangladesh, border guard authorities received those who arrived on the country's shores.  Please see below for specific activities taken by each country (Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh) and our ability to conduct Restoring Family Links (RFL) services in relation to this crisis.

RFL needs, capacity and movement response:

Thailand

Since 2013, the ICRC Delegation in Bangkok has been visiting Immigration Detention Centers in coordination with United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and International Organization for Migration (IOM). 

About 522 migrants from Myanmar, 350 Bangladeshis are being held in two Immigration Detention Centers and four shelters. 

At present, 117 Safe and Well calls were provided to 71 Rakhine Muslims, 43 Bangladeshis and 3 Burmese, with further visits scheduled to provide RFL services.

ICRC is also collecting information on death of migrants.

In addition, the ICRC team is in contact with Save the Children and World Vision to coordinate their activities linked to the current crisis.

Myanmar

According to information provided by UNHCR, 941 people have disembarked in North Rakhine, organized by Myanmar authorities, in coordination with UNHCR and other international NGOs. All who disembarked are under the supervision of the Border Guard Police (BGP),

Of those migrants, 33 were identified as unaccompanied minors and 8 are from Myanmar. UNICEF has registered the unaccompanied minors.

UNHCR has coordinated Safe and Well calls home, as ICRC does not have access to BGP stations.   ICRC stands ready to provide RFL services should authorities grant them access.  ICRC is closely coordinating with UNHCR and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on the response.

ICRC has access to other detention centers and shelters in Rakhine state and can provide Safe and Well phone calls.

Indonesia

According to UNHCR, migrants brought ashore in Aceh and North Sumatra over the past few weeks numbered more than 1700 and are sheltered in 6 locations.  There are approximately 993 migrants from Myanmar (estimated 208 children) and 731 migrants from Bangladesh.

The ICRC and Indonesian Red Cross RFL team provided 281 Safe and Well phone calls (41 to Unaccompanied Minors) in five days and collected 35 Safe and Well messages.

Services are continuing to be coordinated with the related actors in the field, such as the local Government, UNHCR, IOM, INGOs and NGOs.

Malaysia

According to the UNHCR, 1107 migrants arrived in Langkawi on 11 May 2015, out of which 700 are from Bangladesh and 407 are from Myanmar.  All migrants were transferred to Immigration Detention Centers (IDC), which had already housed a significant population. 

The ICRC has been visiting IDCs in Malaysia since 2010 and in tandem with the Malaysian Red Crescent (MRC) since 2011. The RFL team is able to provide Red Cross Messages as well as Safe and Well phone calls.  

Bangladesh

The ICRC is in contact with Border Guard authorities in view of the possible return of Bangladeshi migrants rescued in Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand. The Bangladesh Red Cross Society (BDRCS) has access to detention places for RFL services should foreign migrants be sent there.   

Both the ICRC Delegation and the BDRCS are coordinating their efforts, highlighting the readiness of the BDRCS and the ICRC to provide RFL and health services including transport expenses and accompaniment of beneficiaries, at the airport when migrants return.
BDRCS and/or ICRC have been undertaking the following activities:

The ICRC and the BDRCS are currently processing 29 tracing requests for Unaccompanied Bangladeshi minors who arrived in Rakhine mid-May.

If you or someone you know has lost contact with a family member or loved one due to migration in the Andaman Sea region, the American Red Cross can help. To learn more about this service and start your search today, please visit redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies. You can also start your search by contacting your local chapter.