Malaysia, Indonesia to turn migrant boats back

Two Southeast Asian nations refuses to accept refugees unless their boats are sinking, days after thousands of Rohingya migrants were rescued

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Malaysia has followed Indonesia's foot steps in turning back boats carrying thousands of desperate migrants, days after hundreds of people, mostly Rohingya muslims, were rescued in its waters.

About 1,600 of the long-persecuted Rohingya Muslim-minority have landed in Malaysia and Indonesia over a two-day period and it seems they have no place to go.

Another 116 Malaysia-bound migrants, including several children, were rescued by Bangladesh coast guard and navy team in an abandoned boat in the Bay of Bengal on Monday.

An estimated 8,000 men, women and children are now being held in the Malacca Strait and nearby international waters aboard overcrowded vessels. Activists say smugglers abandoned those ships after the discovery of mass migrant graves and a subsequent crackdown on human trafficking in Thailand.

Despite numerous calls from the United Nations and migrant agencies for help for the stranded, Malaysia said it would turn away boats entering its waters, unless they were sinking.

"The policy has always been to escort them out of Malaysian waters after giving them the necessary provisions," First Admiral Tan Kok Kwee of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency said, adding "We won't let any foreign boats come in."

The announcement came after the Indonesian navy confirmed it had turned around a boat carrying about 400 people after providing it with fuel, food and directions to Malaysia.

More than 1,100 migrants have landed in Malaysia in two days and they will be transferred to detention centers, according to the officials.

Stateless Rohingya Muslims have been subject to discrimination and persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and denied citizenship.

Their exodus gathered speed after attacks that left hundreds dead and more than 140,000 homeless. Most Rohingya live in crowded camps in Myanmar's Rakhine state, under apartheid-like conditions, and they hope to find a decent life in other countries.

Meanwhile, a group of Southeast Asian parliamentarians have slammed the decision as "inhumane."

"Towing migrants out to sea and declaring that they aren't your problem anymore is not a solution to the wider regional crisis," the group asserted in a statement. "Any solution must include securing binding commitments from Myanmar to end the persecution of Rohingya that is fueling their exodus."  

TRTWorld and agencies