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Southeast Asia to set up fund to help boat people

From left to right, Malaysian Home Ministry Secretary General Alwi Haji Ibrahim, Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Malaysian national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar and Home Affairs Principal Assistant Secretary International Division Abdul Munir Lutfi attend and an emergency ASEAN ministerial meeting on the migrant crisis in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Thursday, July 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Southeast Asian countries will establish a humanitarian fund to help boatloads of Rohingya Muslim and Bangladeshi immigrants who have recently landed in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand, a Malaysian minister said Thursday.

Singapore has pledged $200,000 to the fund, Malaysian Home Affairs Minister Zahid Hamidi told a news conference after chairing a special regional meeting on the refugee crisis.

Since early May, more than 4,600 boat people from Myanmar and Bangladesh have come ashore in Southeast Asian waters, after human smugglers abandoned their boats amid a regional crackdown.

Some are Bangladeshis who left their impoverished homeland in hope of finding jobs abroad. But many are Rohingya Muslims who have fled persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which has denied them basic rights, including citizenship, and confined more than 100,000 to camps. There are more than 1 million Rohingyas living in the country formerly known as Burma.

The meeting in Kuala Lumpur was a follow-up to an emergency conference on the boat people in Bangkok in May that drew 17 regional countries. In a statement, Malaysia said the trust fund will be administered by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations secretariat based in Jakarta.

The statement said the fund will be open to voluntary contributions from ASEAN states and members of the international community to “support the humanitarian and relief efforts involved in dealing with challenges” from the refugee crisis.

Zahid said the regional countries alone should not carry the burden of the refugees. He said he had proposed that each Southeast Asian nation contribute $100,000 to the fund.

Myanmar, who was represented by Deputy Home Affairs Minister Kyaw Kyaw Tun, pledged to work with neighboring countries to bust human trafficking syndicates, Zahid said.

However, he said that the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar wasn’t discussed at the meeting.

“We shouldn’t be involved in their domestic matters,” he said.

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