Migrant Crisis: Malaysia to Send Home 680 Bangladeshis

By BenarNews Staff
150519-ID-migrant-620 A rescued Bangladeshi prays as Indonesian personnel fumigate makeshift sleeping quarters in a warehouse in Langsa, Aceh province, May 19, 2015.

Malaysia will deport 680 Bangladeshis who landed on its western shores last week as part of a maritime influx of illegal migrants, Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said Tuesday.

“Bangladeshi illegal immigrants will be sent back to their country,” Wan told reporters in the lobby of parliament, saying the government would deport the Bangladeshis as soon as it processed their paperwork.

The Bangladeshis were among at least 1,000 illegal migrants who made it ashore on northwestern Langkawi island May 11, after being rescued from human-smuggling boats or swimming to safety.

This group also included some 400 ethnic Rohingyas – members of a stateless Muslim minority from Myanmar. The Malaysian government plans to hand them over to the local office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Wan Junaidi said.

It would be up to UNHCR to determine whether to issue these people refugee cards or “send the refugees to third countries,” he added.

Across the Strait of Malacca, some 1,350 migrants have been rescued by fishermen from Indonesia’s Aceh province, despite a policy enforced by the Indonesian, Malaysian and Thai governments since last week of preventing more boatloads from arriving.

The foreign ministers of the three countries will meet in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday to discuss the crisis, and on May 29 Thailand will host a multi-national summit on it.

In related news, officials in the Philippines on Tuesday said their government, as a signatory of the 1951 U.N. Convention of Refugees, was ready to help the boat people.

“As the only predominantly Catholic nation in Southeast Asia, it is our duty to provide succor to those in need,” presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma told Agence France-Presse, without giving details.

Pressure mounts on governments

In Jakarta on Tuesday, Indonesian lawmaker Muhammad Nasir Djamil criticized his government’s handling of the crisis.

"The Indonesian government is weak. This is preventing the country from responding immediately to this humanitarian crisis in the region,” he told BenarNews.

“Parliament should make a political decision to pressure the Myanmar government to end sectarian conflict and to help their citizens currently stranded in Indonesia,” he told BenarNews.

In Banda Aceh, the Acehnese capital, some 100 demonstrators staged a rally in support of the migrants, calling for international action to save those still adrift at sea.

“People of Aceh have already provided a good example,” rally coordinator Darlis Aziz told BenarNews. “When every government refused to help, we saved them. This should be an embarrassment for them.”

“Imagine if we or our relatives were in their position. Now is the time to prove that we have a sense of humanity. They are humans, not animals,” Darlis added.

Teungku Faisal Ali, who heads the provincial branch of Nadhlatul Ulama, an influential Indonesian Muslim group, echoed that sentiment.

“As a majority Muslim country, Indonesia must immediately act,” he told BenarNews.

Indonesia and other ASEAN states need to press predominantly Buddhist Myanmar to recognize Rohingyas as citizens and give them equal rights, he said.

“I fear that if there is no immediate concrete action, conflict may occur in Indonesia because there may be some revenge taken against Buddhists,” Faisal warned.

“If religious conflict breaks out, the government must take responsibility for letting the humanitarian crisis happen on the high seas,” he said.

In Malaysia, there were similar calls for the government – which holds ASEAN’s rotating chair – to press Myanmar to ease the suffering of the Rohingya.

“If Myanmar doesn’t want to resolve this issue, we have to expel Myanmar from ASEAN,” Zahidi Zainul Abidin, an MP representing Padang Besar, told parliament on Tuesday, the Malaysian Insider reported.

“Human lives are more important than ASEAN’s economy. Otherwise, it is shameful,” Zahidi added.

His constituency lies on the border with southern Thailand, a notorious transit point for the trafficking of migrants into Malaysia.

The Thai side of the border is where the discovery of the bodies of more than 30 migrants earlier this month triggered a Thai governmental crackdown on human trafficking and a blockade on smugglers’ boats entering national waters.

Myanmar has denied that the migrants came from its territory and said it may not attend the May 29 summit in Bangkok.

International bodies make urgent call

Meanwhile, U.N. and International Organization for Migration (IOM) officials issued a joint call for Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to save migrants stranded at sea.

“We are deeply concerned at reports that boats full of vulnerable women, men and children are unable to land and are stranded at sea without access to urgently needed food, water, and medical assistance,” said the statement signed by the heads of the IOM and the U.N. agencies for refugees and human rights, among others.

“We urge states in the region to protect the lives of all aboard by allowing the passengers on these overcrowded boats to disembark safely.”

Nurdin Hasan, Paramita Dewiyani and Hata Wahari contributed to this report.


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