Malaysia, Indonesia to Grant Migrants Temporary Shelter

By BenarNews Staff
150520-MY-diplomats-620 Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi (left) and Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman hold a joint news conference on the migrant issue in Putrajaya, May 20, 2015.

In a major policy shift, Malaysia and Indonesia on Wednesday agreed to allow some 7,000 migrants stranded at sea to land on their shores, saying they would conditionally shelter them for up to a year.

The announcement came hours after fishermen in western Indonesia rescued 433 more migrants from a wooden boat that had been drifting in the Strait of Malacca for six days due to repeated push-backs by the Thai and Malaysian navies.

Later, the United States and Gambia offered to help resettle Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar.

"The U.S. stands ready to help the countries of the region bear the burden and save lives today," Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, told a briefing in Washington.

The West African nation of Gambia announced it was willing to take in all the Rohingya refugees, according to Agence France-Presse.

"The government of the Gambia notes with grave concern the inhumane condition of the Rohingya people of Myanmar -- especially those referred to as 'boatpeople' -- currently drifting in the seas off the coast of Malaysia and Indonesia," its government said in a statement.

"As human beings, more so fellow Muslims, it is a sacred duty to help alleviate the untold hardships and sufferings fellow human beings are confronted with."

A day earlier, the Philippines had said it was prepared to help the Rohingya as well as Bangladeshi migrants stranded by smugglers at sea since Thailand launched a crackdown on people smuggling earlier this month.

Policy reversal

Malaysia and Indonesia announced the policy reversals following a meeting Wednesday in Putrajaya, Malaysia.

After some 2,300 migrants had reached their shores earlier this month, the two countries last week began to push away boatloads of migrants, sparking widespread criticism from at home and abroad.

“Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those 7,000 irregular migrants still at sea,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said after the meeting, reading from a joint statement.

“We also agreed to offer them temporary shelter provided that the resettlement and repatriation process will be done in one year by the international community,” he added.

But Thailand – which also attended the summit – did not agree to take in any of the thousands of Bangladeshi and ethnic Rohingya Muslim migrants still adrift in regional waters.

In Bangkok, Thai officials denied that the navy would keep turning away boats packed with migrants, but the government also didn’t say whether they would allow them to disembark.

“Thailand attached great importance to humanitarian assistance and [will] not push back migrants stranded in the Thai territorial water[s],” the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Earlier in the week, the Thai government had said it would house 313 migrants detained in southern Thailand since May 1 in temporary shelters.

“In reference to the Rohingya problem, Thailand is a middle country and not their country of destination,” Deputy Defense Minister and Army Chief Gen. Udomdesh Sitabutr told reporters Wednesday.

“If any country sympathizes with them, just take some of them.”

Myanmar to attend summit

In another diplomatic breakthrough Wednesday, Myanmar said its representatives would attend a May 29 summit in Bangkok on human trafficking and the regional migrant crisis.

Last week, Myanmar had cast doubt on whether it would send a delegation and it also rejected international claims that its territory was the point of origin for the Rohingya migration.

“We all have to sit down and we all have to consider how to tackle this problem together,” Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister Thant Kyaw said in Bangkok, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, early Wednesday, there was more drama on the high seas as fishermen from the western Indonesian province of Aceh rescued 433 more migrants from a boat the Strait of Malacca.

Muhammad Salim, 23, a Rohingya man, said that on May 14, after the boat entered Thai waters near Koh Lipe island in Satun province, it was resupplied and escorted back to sea.

It was later spotted by the Malaysian Navy, which also chased it off.

“They said, if you don’t go within 10 minutes, we will shoot you,” said Salim.

Nurdin Hasan and Pimuk Rakkanam contributed to this report.


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