Jakarta (dpa) – The Indonesian military told local fishermen not to help boats carrying migrants and refugees land unless they were sinking, a spokesman said Tuesday, adding that passengers may have been deliberately thrown overboard to attract attention.
Thousands of migrants from Myanmar’s Rohingya ethnic minority and Bangladesh are reportedly stranded on boats in South-East Asian waters.
The military has deployed four warships and an aircraft to patrol the sea to prevent refugee boats from entering Indonesian territory, military spokesman Fuad Basya said.
Indonesian fishing boats and marine police rescued nearly 800 people late last week from a sinking vessel near the coast.
“Intelligence indicates that they deliberately threw people overboard so that they would be saved by fishermen,” Fuad said.
“So we advise fishermen not to take the refugees unless they are drowning or the boats stall,” he said.
He said the military would turn undocumented migrants away unless the Foreign Ministry advised otherwise.
Thousands of migrants are believed to be still at sea, possibly with little food after their boats were turned away by Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. In some cases, the crew had abandoned the vessels.
The crisis prompted the heads of several international organizations to urge the three South-East Asian countries to protect the lives of the migrants rather than leaving them floating in the Bay of Bengal.
Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand should “give priority to saving lives, protecting rights, and respecting human dignity,” the UN high commissioners for human rights and refugees, the UN special representative for migration, and the head of the International Organization for Migration said.
They called on the governments to stop pushing boats back out to sea, and urged them to let the migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar land so that their asylum claims can be processed individually.
Meanwhile, the Philippines said it was ready help to as long as such an initiative is within the scope of the UN conventions on refugees and stateless persons, a government spokesman said.
“We will do what is needed and deal with concrete situations as these actually materialize, based on our position to comply with the UN convention relating to the status of refugees and stateless persons,” presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma said.