Responding to international pressure, Malaysia and Indonesia have pledged on Wednesday, 20 May, to provide temporary shelter for the thousands of Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants stranded in the Andaman Sea, on condition that the international community resettles or repatriates them within a year.
The two countries and Thailand have sparked unhappiness from international rights groups when they prevented vessels packed with starving migrants from Bangladesh and from Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya minority from landing on their shores.
According to media reports, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman had said Malaysia would not actively search for migrants, but will provide shelter if they came ashore.
“The towing and the shooing (away of boats) is not going to happen,” he said at a joint press conference with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi, following talks on the issue that also involved Thailand.
Thailand, however, would not be part of the offer, as it had to refer back to whether the move would be allowed by “domestic laws” in Thailand, said Mr Anifah. “In the meantime, Malaysia and Indonesia invite other countries in the region to join in this endeavour.”
Thailand later said that it would continue to provide humanitarian assistance, but would not establish any shelter for the migrants.
“Today’s foreign ministers meeting should mark the end of the region’s push back policies against Rohingya and Bangladeshi boat people,” said Mr Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. “But its disturbing that just when Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to at least provide temporary shelter for boat people, Thailand was missing in action.
“Let’s hope that this failure of Thai leadership is temporary, and that Bangkok recognizes that it should urgently revamp its stance and agree to save these desperate people on the high seas and provide them with humanitarian shelter and assistance ashore.”
About 3,000 migrants made it to shore or have been rescued off Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand over the past week, after a Thai crackdown prompted some of the traffickers to abandon their human cargo at sea.
Internal estimates indicated that about 7,000 to 8,000 were stranded at sea.
Myanmar was also criticised by the international community for not helping to stem the outflow of Muslim Rohingya, who are fleeing their homes in the country’s western Rakhine state after years of violence and discrimination from the Buddhist majority.
Myanmar’s foreign ministry was apparently quoted by media saying that the nation is “ready to provide humanitarian assistance to anyone who suffered in the sea.”
Singapore’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs have earlier announced that Singapore would not be accepting refugees or people seeking political asylum.
“As a small country with limited land, Singapore is not in a position to accept any persons seeking political asylum or refugee status, regardless of their ethnicity or place of origin,” an MHA spokesperson was reported as saying.
Adapted from media reports.