Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia will continue to send boats holding thousands of migrants back to sea, a senior Thai official said on Wednesday, despite a UN appeal for a rapid rescue operation to avoid a humanitarian crisis.
Several thousand migrants, many of them hungry and sick, are adrift in Southeast Asian seas in boats that have been abandoned by smugglers following a Thai government crackdown on human trafficking, the United Nations has said.
“Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand have decided not to receive boat people, as far as I am aware,” said Major General Werachon Sukhondhapatipak, spokesman for Thailand’s ruling junta.
He declined to comment on the UN refugee agency UNHCR’s appeal on Tuesday for an international search and rescue operation to rescue the thousands stranded on the seas between Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The issue would be discussed at a meeting of 15 countries, to be held in Bangkok on May 29, Werachon said.
Malaysia – where more than 1,100 migrants came ashore this week – said it would turn away boats entering its waters unless they were about to sink.
“The policy has always been to escort them out of Malaysian waters after giving them the necessary provisions” including fuel, water and food, said First Admiral Tan Kok Kwee of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.
The Indonesian navy already has turned away at least one vessel packed with hundreds of abandoned migrants.
Indonesia provided food, water and medical supplies to around 500 passengers on a boat off the coast of Aceh on Monday, before sending the vessel toward Malaysia. Nearly 600 migrants were rescued from overcrowded wooden boats stranded off Indonesia’s Aceh province the previous day.
The Indonesian navy said the passengers of the boat they sent on its way wanted to go to Malaysia, not Indonesia.
But advocacy group ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights criticized the Indonesian action.
“Towing migrants out to sea and declaring that they aren’t your problem any more is not a solution to the wide regional crisis,” ABHR Chairperson and Malaysian lawmaker Charles Santiago said in a statement.
Many of the arrivals are Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority from Myanmar described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
An estimated 25,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya boarded rickety smugglers’ boats in the first three months of this year, twice as many in the same period of 2014, the UNHCR has said.
Agence France-Presse – Reuters
(China Daily 05/14/2015 page11)