Malaysia, Indonesia to let ‘boat people’ come ashore temporarily

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Malaysia and Indonesia said on Wednesday they would offer shelter to 7,000 “boat people” adrift at sea in rickety boats but made clear their assistance was temporary and they would take no more.

More than 3,000 migrants have landed so far this month in Malaysia and Indonesia. Together with Thailand, they have pushed away many boats that approached their shores despite appeals from the United Nations to take them in.

In a joint statement in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Indonesia emphasized that the international community also had a responsibility to help them deal with the crisis.

The migrants are mostly Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and Bangladeshis – men, women and children who fled persecution and poverty at home or were abducted by traffickers, and now face sickness and starvation at sea.

“What we have clearly stated is that we will take in only those people in the high sea,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said. “But under no circumstances would we be expected to take each one of them if there is an influx of others.”

Both countries said they would offer “resettlement and repatriation”, a process that would be “done in a year by the international community”.

The United Nations, which has been calling on governments in the region to rescue those drifting at sea, welcomed the move and urged that people be brought to shore without delay.

THAILAND OPTS OUT:

Aman said temporary shelters would be set up, but not in Thailand, a favored transit point for migrants hoping to work illegally in Malaysia.

Thai authorities have said they will allow the sick to come to shore for medical attention, but have stopped short of saying whether they would allow other migrants to disembark.

Still, Thailand said on Wednesday that it would not force boats back out to sea.

“Thailand attaches great importance to humanitarian assistance and will not push back migrants stranded in the Thai territorial water,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Thailand has called a regional conference on the issue in Bangkok for May 29.