Migrant Crisis: Malaysian Aircraft Standby For Rescue

By BenarNews Staff
150521-SEA-boat-620 Malaysian activists protest outside the Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur, May 21, 2015.

Malaysia put helicopters on standby Thursday to rescue migrants off its northwest coast, and Myanmar said it would work to prevent “irregular movements” of people from its territory to countries farther south.

"We are ready to cooperate with other governments to resolve the ongoing problems through constructive engagement and on humanitarian grounds," said Zaw Htay, director of the Myanmar’s president's office, according to the Associated Press.

The decision did not imply that Myanmar was solely responsible for the crisis or would use the word Rohingya, a term not recognized by his government, AP quoted him as saying.

The statement came as the foreign ministers of Malaysia and Indonesia travelled to Myanmar’s administrative capital Thursday for separate meetings on the issue. A senior U.S. diplomat also talked separately with government officials in Naypyidaw.

Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken “shared the U.S. government’s concerns about the migrant crisis” and urged Myanmar to work with regional partners on the issue, according to the American embassy in Yangon.

Myanmar agreed “to strengthen measures in order to prevent irregular movements of migrants from Myanmar territory,” Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement after Foreign Minister Retno L.P. Marsudi met with Wunna Maung Lwin, her counterpart from Myanmar.

He agreed to send consular officials to visit migrants in Aceh, the province in northwestern Indonesia that has taken in some 1,345 Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshi nationals since May 10.

Choppers on alert

On Thursday Malaysia moved to search for migrants feared stuck at sea since neighboring Thailand launched a crackdown on smuggling earlier this month, and to care for those who recently came ashore.

Four navy ships stocked with food, drink and clothing sailed to Langkawi, an island on the northwest coast where 1,158 migrants landed last week, according to the state-run Bernama news agency.

The navy also put helicopters in Langkawi and Perak “on stand-by for rescuing the refugees if there was a need for it," Bernama quoted Adm. Abdul Aziz Jaafar as saying.

Meanwhile, at the government’s request, a non-governmental medical relief group known as Mercy Malaysia began work at the Belantik detention center in Kedah state, where the migrants were being held.

A day earlier, Malaysia and Indonesia announced they would stop blocking migrant boats from landing as well as take in up to 7,000 people on condition that the international community assisted with repatriating or resettling them in third countries within a year.

Daunting numbers

Yante Ismail, a spokesman for the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kuala Lumpur, said his agency was ready to help.

“At this time, UNHCR has not received a formal response from the government asking it to participate in any operational way, but stands ready to do so if required,” he told BenarNews.

The scale of the problem is daunting. Of 45,000 Rohingya refugees registered in Malaysia, only 2,000 have been resettled in third countries, according to the chairman of the Rohingya Society in Malaysia, Abdul Hamid Musa Ali.

“This does not include the 60,000 to 70,000 Rohingya immigrants in Malaysia who are still not registered with the U.N. agency for refugees until now,” Bernama quoted him as saying.

“Since 2005, UNHCR has facilitated the resettlement of over 100,000 refugees from Malaysia to third countries,” Yante said.

‘Take them to your home’

Rohingya advocacy, meanwhile, took on global dimensions as politicians in Europe and the United States called on Myanmar to stem the flow of refugees.

In Washington, lawmakers demanded that Myanmar be taken to task for persecuting minorities, and in Brussels, European Union legislators urged Thailand to "end any complicity with the criminal gangs trafficking Rohingya people and other migrants," the Associated Press reported.

In Thailand, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha appeared fed up with pressure from the international community, after it did not join Malaysia and Indonesia in opening its shores to migrant boats on Wednesday.

"Anyone who supports this idea (of accepting boatpeople), please contribute one baht a day or take them to your home when their case has been processed," the junta chief said during a speech in Bangkok, according to Agence France-Presse.

"Or you migrate out to the sea and bring them to live here instead," he added.

Suhana Osman contributed to this report.


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