A crucial meeting on the crisis stemming from unprecedented human-trafficking is hosted by Thailand today in Bangkok as Southeast Asian countries grapple with the growing number of people adrift at sea.
Meanwhile, the New York based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) appealed to the countries converging at Bangkok should reach binding agreements to save people at sea, permit them to disembark without conditions, and ensure unimpeded access for UN agencies to protect the rights of asylum seekers.
HRW urged the governments to also demand that Myanmar and Bangladesh should take specific steps to end human rights abuses against the Rohingya that are causing them to flee on dangerous boats to escape persecution, said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW.
The day-long meeting will be chaired by Norachit Sinhaseni, permanent secretary for the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
But the meeting in Bangkok aimed at addressing Southeast Asia's migrant crisis is unlikely to produce a binding agreement or plan of action to save thousands of people believed stranded on boats in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, participants said.
But many attendees are not ministerial-level and the meeting may not carry the gravitas which organizers in Bangkok hope to achieve. According to the Thai ministry of foreign affairs, at least three of the countries central to the crisis will not be sending government ministers to the meeting: Myanmar, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Myanmar said on Thursday it had no plans to reach an agreement in Bangkok.
"We are going there only to discuss the regional crisis which all of the ASEAN countries are facing," Htein Lin, director-general at Myanmar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and head of the delegation from Myanmar, said.
The objective of the "forum for exchange of information and intelligence on the current situation on illegal migration by sea and its challenges, demonstrate strong commitment to strengthen cooperation and foster concrete actions," Thai government said in a statement.
The special meeting will include officials from 17 countries, including Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Lao PDR, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Thailand, with observers from the United States and Switzerland, and senior officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Bangladesh is being represented at the meeting by Bangladesh Ambassador to Thailand Saida Muna Tasneem and Labour Attaches from Bangladesh embassies in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Thai authorities have been somewhat frustrated as a call by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for a summit of heads of government to discuss the grievous inhuman issue did not receive positive response.
The agenda of the regional meeting includes cooperation on information and intelligence sharing as well as coordination in law enforcement to dismantle transnational criminal networks, and collective information campaign at countries of origin, transit, and destination to promote awareness and prevent exploitations.
Thai authorities, who have been accused of turning a blind eye - and also complicity in the trade, say they cannot stem the flow of the migrants making dangerous sea journeys from Bangladesh and Myanmar without regional help.
Over 3,500 Rohingyas and migrants from Bangladesh have washed up on the shores of Malaysia and Indonesia in recent weeks, many of them abandoned by human-trafficking gangs.
The UN says thousands more may still be at sea and top diplomats from the US and elsewhere have pointed to Myanmar's treatment of its Muslim Rohingya population as one of the main factors encouraging many of them to attempt the dangerous voyage to Malaysia this year.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people, including dozens of monks, took to the streets of Yangon on Wednesday to protest growing international pressure on Myanmar to improve the way it treats the stateless Rohingya minority at the centre of Southeast Asia's migrant crisis.
Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said in Singapore on Thursday his country was struggling to contain surging illegal migration through the Bay of Bengal.
He blamed Myanmar for the high number of Rohingyas fleeing abroad and called for international pressure to stop it. "The Rohingya crisis has been created by Myanmar, which will have to find a solution," Haque said.