The Andaman Migrants Crisis: A Statement by an ICMC Member

In the past months, thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants fleeing persecution sought refuge in neighboring countries through the Andaman Sea. According to IOM figures, nearly 3,100 were recently received by Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia; yet, 5000 more may still be adrift at sea.

The Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ECMI) – an organ of the Catholic Bishops Conference in the Philippines, an ICMC member – issued a statement expressing its deep concern for the situation and calling all countries to provide assistance to the migrants.

Statement of the Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ECMI) on the Refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh

…for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt (Ex. 22:21)

The boats bearing the Rohingyas which were turned away by Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have caught the attention of the international community. Unwanted in Myanmar, the country where they have been staying for a long time, thousands of them, together with other migrants from Bangladesh, have embarked on a long and perilous journey hoping to find succor in neighboring countries of Southeast Asia. Duped by traffickers, who lured them with the promise of a better life, these poor people face international rejection. No country wants to accept them also for fear of setting a precedent that will unleash further migration. To compound tragedy with irony, the Rohingyas and Bangladeshis are seeking acceptance in countries that either send migrants abroad or host millions of migrants in an irregular situation.

We used to be horrified by the deaths of thousands of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Africa towards Europe. Now those scenes are taking place in our region, much closer to us, and it is impossible to ignore them. Migrants and refugees are a constant reminder of the political, social and economic inequalities that divide our world. In the face of growing disparities, more people will attempt to leave conditions of despair in search of hope. Reflecting on this reality, the Church concluded that “migration raises a truly ethical question: the search for a new international economic order” (Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi, 8). Mindful of the complexities of the phenomenon, Benedict XVI stated that “No country can be expected to address today’s problems of migration by itself” (Caritas in Veritate, 62). The plight of the Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants cannot be solved by indifference. Particularly for ASEAN, as the region is moving towards closer integration and cooperation, solidarity among nations must replace the rejection and indifference that is tragically on display.

As a country of origin of millions of migrants, we know the hardships that accompany our people who leave home in search of a better life. We are invited to reflect on the tragedy that is taking place in the Andaman Sea and be reminded of our responsibility, because, as the Scripture says, “you were foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 22:21). Pope Francis has called on us to move away from “attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization … towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world” (Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2014). In this year dedicated by the Church to action and solidarity with the poor, we are reminded that the poor cannot be distinguished by race, nationality, gender, and religious affiliation. All poor bear for us the presence of Christ. As followers of Christ, we are called to be a living sign to the world that there is no one who is too poor not to be able to give and to share. As a country of migrants, we are called, together with other nations, to reciprocate the welcome that our migrants have received in foreign lands.

With the approval of the CBCP-President.

Bp. Ruperto C. Santos, Bishop of Balanga
Chairperson, Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ECMI)


ICMC provides assistance and protection to vulnerable people on the move and advocates for sustainable solutions for refugees and migrants.