Malaysia, Indonesia Say Will Take in Migrants at Sea, Temporarily

By Praveen Menon 20 May 2015

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia and Indonesia said on Wednesday they would offer temporary shelter to 7,000 “boat people” adrift at sea in rickety boats, but made clear they would take no more.

More than 3,000 migrants have landed in Malaysia and Indonesia, which together with Thailand have opted for a “not-in-my-backyard” policy and pushed away boats that approach their borders.

The migrants are Rohingya Muslims from Burma and Bangladeshis—men, women and children who fled persecution and poverty at home, and now face sickness and starvation at sea.

“What we have clearly stated is that we will take in only those people in the high sea,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said. “But under no circumstances would we be expected to take each one of them if there is an influx of others.”

Malaysia and Indonesia said in a joint statement in Kuala Lumpur that they would offer “resettlement and repatriation,” a process that would be “done in a year by the international community,”

Thailand’s foreign minister also attended the meeting in the Malaysian capital.

“The international community will be responsible in providing Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand with necessary support, particularly financial assistance, to enable them to provide temporary shelter and humanitarian assistance to the irregular migrants currently at risk,” the statement said.

Aman said temporary shelters would be set up, but not in Thailand, a favored transit point for the migrants.

“Everyone needs to follow domestic laws,” he said without elaborating. “They [Thailand] are not saying they are not willing to accept [migrants].”

In Bangkok, Thai Deputy Thai Defense Minister Udomdej stressed that Thailand was not a destination.

“It is not the country the Rohingya want to go to… if they enter Thai waters, we will send authorities to see if they are hurt or ill. If they are ill, we will bring them to nurses. If they want to go on to a third country, then they can. We cannot force them to do anything.”

Indonesia had said it would prevent migrant boats from landing on its shores but would provide humanitarian assistance at sea if needed. The navy has stepped up patrols in the waters off Aceh, deploying warships to intercept boats.

Hundreds of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants landed in Indonesia’s northwestern Aceh province early on Wednesday, an Indonesian search and rescue official said.

“I urge all NGOs, of all races and religions to step forward to volunteer to help these Rohingya migrants,” Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said.

“Even though they are a migrant community that is trying to enter the country illegally, and breaking immigration laws, their well-being should not be ignored.”