Thousands of Rohingya still adrift, Malaysia sends boats

UN estimates at least three thousand Rohingya migrants still stranded at sea, as Malaysian navy and coastguard launch a search and rescue operation

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Under international pressure for being slow to help migrants who have been stuck at sea, Malaysia steps up efforts to ease the migrant crisis in the region.

The country's navy has been ordered to launch a search and rescue operation for the migrants and four navy ships have been sent to look for stranded migrants at sea.

Meanwhile, Myanmar navy has carried out first rescue operation of a migrant boat, carrying more than 200 migrants, on Friday. The government officials said the boat was coming from Thailand, a transit hub for the smugglers.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has already announced that a Turkish military ship has been sent to help rescue Rohingya Muslims off the coast of Thailand.

The United States also said it's ready to assist countries in the region and even accept some asylum seekers.

Nearly 2,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and Bangladesh landed in Indonesia’s Aceh province and the shores of Malaysia in recent days after people smugglers abandoned them at sea. Hundreds of boat people were rescued by fishermen.

Malaysia and Indonesia offered settlement for those who are rescued for a year, but Thailand has so far refused to follow. Thai junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said migrants found in Thailand will be put in detention centres as before.

The UN estimates that more than 3,000 migrants are still adrift in the Andaman Sea, and the number could be much higher.

The growing crisis has put intense pressure on South Asian countries, which initially pushed back the boats packed with hungry, thirsty and sick people, including women and children.

Thailand announced a regional meeting on the issue, and while Malaysia and Indonesia accepted the invitation, Myanmar rejected.

However, after US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to the country, Myanmar authorities declared they will also attend the meeting.

The US representative urged Myanmar to address the cause of the crisis, implying the country’s denial of citizenship to Rohingya Muslims and systematic persecution of the ethnic minority.

But, those calls seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Myanmar’s military commander-in-chief accused the migrants of "pretending to be Rohingya Muslims to receive UN aid." He also repeated the official line on the Rohingya, claiming they are coming from Bangladesh.

Rohingya Muslims are not considered to be citizens by Myanmar because the country claims that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite them having lived in the country for generations.

Rohingya Muslims have been attacked by Buddhist mobs in recent years and thousands of men, women, and children have been subjected to forced migration.

According to the United Nations, the Rohingya are the most persecuted minority on the planet.

TRTWorld and agencies