Malaysia orders search for migrants as Myanmar hosts talks with envoys

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Malaysia ordered search and rescue missions Thursday for thousands of boat-people stranded at sea, as Myanmar held talks with US and Southeast Asian envoys on the migrant exodus from its shores.

The rescue order, which is the first proactive official move to save the thousands of persecuted Muslim Rohingya and Bangladeshi economic migrants believed to currently be adrift, comes a day after Malaysia and Indonesia said they would end a policy of turning away boats.

“We have to prevent loss of life,” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on his Facebook account, announcing the measure.

Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir told AFP his country had not made a similar order but the issue was “something that will be discussed”.

As the migrant crisis unfolded, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand were heavily criticised for refusing to take in boats overloaded with exhausted passengers fleeing poverty or persecution.

But on Wednesday, Malaysia and Indonesia relented, announcing their nations would accept boat-people for one year, or until they can be resettled or repatriated with the help of international agencies.

Thailand also took part in Wednesday’s talks in Kuala Lumpur, saying it would no longer push-back boats in its waters but stopping short of signing up fully to the deal.

The policy about-turn was welcomed by the United States, which said it also stood ready to admit some of the migrants.