Kuala Lumpur (dpa) – Thousands of boat migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh will be allowed to come ashore in Malaysia and Indonesia according to an agreement reached Wednesday, amid international pressure for a solution to South-East Asia’s migrant crisis.
The Malaysian and Indonesian foreign ministers made the announcement after talks – also attended by Thailand – over how to deal with the stranded migrants, mostly from the persecuted Rohingya minority in Myanmar.
“Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those 7,000 irregular migrants still at sea,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said alongside his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsude.
“We also agreed to offer them temporary shelter provided that the resettlement and repatriation process will be done in one year by the international community,” he added after the meeting near Kuala Lumpur.
Anifah warned that Malaysia and Indonesia have limited resources to help the migrants and called on the rest of the world to help.
He added that Indonesia and Malaysia would not actively search for migrants in the sea, but would only provide assistance to those who come to their shores.
Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla released a statement after the conference confirming the agreement.
He clarified that the Bangladeshi migrants from the boats would be repatriated “because they are economic migrants.”
“As for the Rohingya, we will let them stay while awaiting for resettlement in a third country,” he said.
Although Thailand put its name on a joint statement outlining the deal, it will not take in any migrants as part of the agreement.
Thai Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn left before the press conference, reportedly left after saying that he needed to consult local laws.
The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR welcomed Malaysia and Indonesia’s decision and vowed to work closely with them in providing assistance to the migrants.
“This is an important initial step in the search for solutions to this issue, and vital for the purpose of saving lives,” the UN agency said in a statement.
“It is now urgent for people to be brought ashore without delay, and that immediate first aid and other care is provided for all who are in need,” it added.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, accused Thailand of being “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,” he added.
Earlier Wednesday, Indonesian fishermen rescued more than 370 migrants, many from Myanmar’s Rohingya minority, from two boats, a rescue official said.
They were evacuated from the boats off northern Aceh province, said Khairul Nova, the chief of the search and rescue agency in the town of Langsa.
“They were dehydrated, hungry and very weak,” Khairul said. The boat people include men, women and children, he said.
The rescue came after the military urged fishermen not to help migrant boats reach the country’s shores unless they were sinking or their boats stall.
The latest arrivals brought to nearly 1,800 the number of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants rescued off Aceh this month.
Military spokesman Fuad Basya said the fishermen were apparently not aware of the military’s calls not to bring the migrants ashore.
“The fishermen had been in the sea for several days when they found the refugees,” Fuad said.