Rohingya and Bangladeshis migrants abandoned at sea by human traffickers had nowhere to go as Malaysia turned away two crammed boats, and Thailand kept at bay a large vessel with hundreds of hungry people.
“What do you expect us to do?” Malaysian deputyhHome minister Wan Junaidi Jafaar said. “We have been very nice to the people who broke into our border. We have treated them humanely but they cannot be flooding our shores like this.
“We have to send the right message that they are not welcome here,” he said.
Four days earlier, about 1,000 refugees landed on the shores of Langkawi, a resort island in northern Malaysia near Thailand. Another 600 have arrived surreptitiously in Indonesia.
Thai prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha also made it clear his government does not have resources to host refugees.
“If we take them all in, then anyone who wants to come will come freely. I am asking if Thailand will be able to take care of them all. Where will the budget come from?” Prayuth said. “No one wants them. Everyone wants a transit country like us to take responsibility. Is it fair?” he said.
Southeast Asia for years tried to quietly ignore the plight of Burma’s 1.3m Rohingya but finds itself caught in a spiralling humanitarian crisis that in many ways it helped create.
In the last three years, more than 120,000 members of the Muslim minority, who are intensely persecuted in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, have boarded ships to flee to other countries, paying huge sums to traffickers.
But faced with a regional crackdown, the smugglers have abandoned the ships, leaving about 6,000 refugees to fend for themselves.
“This is a grave humanitarian crisis demanding an immediate response,” said Matthew Smith, executive director of nonprofit human rights group Fortify Rights. “Lives are on the line.”
Despite appeals by the UN and aid groups, no government in the region — Thai, Indonesian or Malaysian — appears willing to step up.
Wan Junaidi said about 500 people on a boat found on Wednesday off northern Penang state were given provisions and sent on their way. Another boat carrying about 300 migrants was turned away near Langkawi island overnight .
Meanwhile, a boat carrying 300 Rohingya was spotted at the Thai-Malaysian maritime border in Satun province, Thailand’s deputy government spokesman said. The Thai navy contacted the migrants, who said they “wanted to travel to a third country and asked for help in repairing their boat and asked for food and water”.
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