Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia to Meet on Boat-People Crisis

By BenarNews Staff
150518-SEA-migrants-620 A rescued migrant from Myanmar carries a child to receive medical treatment in Kuala Langsa, Indonesia, May 18, 2015.

The foreign ministers of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand will meet in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday to talk about a growing crisis of thousands of people from Myanmar and Bangladesh trying to migrate south by boat.

The tri-lateral talks precede a regional summit on the issue set to take place in Bangkok on May 29.

“Malaysia will continue to seek a solution on this issue through ... concerted and coordinated efforts among the countries of origin, transit and destination," the Malaysian foreign ministry said in a statement, according to the Reuters news agency.

On Sunday, Malaysia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Anifah Aman and his Bangladeshi counterpart met in the East Malaysia state of Sabah, where they discussed the problem and other bilateral issues.

“Both sides agreed to work together in finding an effective solution to combat the issue, and acknowledged the importance to continue to cooperate with countries in the region in finding a coordinated response to the crisis,” Malaysia’s state-run Bernama news agency said of Anifah’s meeting with Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood.

Alleged kingpin in custody

Since May 10 nearly 2,500 Bangladeshi migrants and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar have made it to shore in Malaysia and Indonesia, amid a crackdown launched by Thailand against human trafficking rings.

On Monday, the Thai government announced the arrest of alleged human trafficking kingpin Pajjubun Ung-chotipun, a former member of the administrative council in southern Satun province.

Pajjubun turned himself in to authorities in Bangkok, but denied charges that he was involved in human trafficking. Pajjubun’s wife Tassanee also has been arrested on the same charges, National Police Chief Gen. Somyos Poompanmouang told reporters.

Elsewhere, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said that the government planned to open a temporary shelter to house migrants.

“We conduct everything in accordance with international practice because Rohingya are also human beings,” Prawit said.

‘They are humans’

Thousands more Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants are said to be stranded at sea in rickety smugglers’ boats. Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have been pushing boats away from their shores after supplying their passengers with food, water, and fuel.

Malaysia – the main destination for many Rohingyas – on Sunday called on Myanmar to take part in regional efforts to stem the crisis.

Officials in Myanmar have openly denied that their country is the source of the Rohingya exodus toward other parts of Southeast Asia, and the Burmese government has cast doubt on whether it will send a delegation to Bangkok for the upcoming summit.

"If necessary, we will call for an emergency [ASEAN] meeting," Reuters quoted Anifah as saying during his meeting with the Bangladeshi foreign minister.

Malaysia holds the rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), whose members also include Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar.

"As ASEAN chairman, Malaysia will discuss the issue in depth, and hope Myanmar can sit together to find a solution before it is brought to the international level," he added.

On Monday, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi broke her party’s silence on the issue. Spokesman Nyan Win told reporters in Yangon that Muslim people fleeing from oppression in Myanmar were entitled to human rights.

“If they are not accepted [as citizens], they cannot just be sent onto rivers. Can’t be pushed out to sea,” Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying. “They are humans. I just see them as humans who are entitled to human rights.”

‘We should not be hypocrites’

On Sunday, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Muslim world’s largest inter-governmental body, said it was monitoring the situation in the Bay of Bengal, Andaman Sea and Strait of Malacca.

OIC Secretary-General Iyad Ameen Madani was in touch with countries in the region to discuss “possible ways to alleviate the suffering of the affected people stranded on the sea,” the world body said in a statement.

“The secretary general further called for renewed efforts to tackle the root causes of such human tragedies in order to prevent the escalation of the situation,” the OIC said.

In Jakarta, lawmaker Mahfudz Siddiq called on the Indonesian government to act immediately to address the issue.

“The government owes it to humanity. We often criticize other countries for not helping in humanitarian efforts,” the member of the Indonesian House of Representatives told BenarNews.

“But now we are doing exactly the same. We should not be hypocrites, and we should help those in need,” he added.

In Malaysia, Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, the mufti of Perlis state, criticized fellow Malaysian Muslims for not doing enough to help the Muslim boat people.

“We are still searching for the remains of those who are almost certainly dead on a plane that crashed into the sea, while those who are still alive we leave to die out at sea. Where is our humanity?!” the Malay Mail Online quoted the mufti as saying in reference to the March 2014 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.


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