Malaysia, Indonesia agree to provide ‘boat people’ temporary shelter

A group of rescued migrants mostly Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladesh gathered on arrival at the new confinement area in the fishing town of Kuala Langsa in Aceh province May 15, 2015. – AFP pic
A group of rescued migrants mostly Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladesh gathered on arrival at the new confinement area in the fishing town of Kuala Langsa in Aceh province May 15, 2015. – AFP pic

PUTRAJAYA, May 20 — Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed to provide humanitarian assistance to the 7,000 migrants still adrift at sea, including offering temporary shelter, provided that the international community takes steps to repatriate them within a year.

Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman in making the announcement said the two countries are prepared to carry out “their duties” if they are given the necessary support, particularly financial assistance.

The agreement was reached after Anifah met with his Indonesian and Thai counterparts to discuss on a joint solution to the influx of Rohingya and Bangladeshi immigrants via sea route.

“Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those 7,000 irregular migrants still at sea,” Anifah told a press conference after chairing the meeting here.

“We also agreed to offer them temporary shelter provided that the resettlement and repatriation process will be done in a year by the international community,” he added.

Anifah said the two countries have yet to decide on where to place the temporary shelters, but assured that both governments are committed to seeing the programme through.

He noted that Thailand has agreed to the idea in principle, though it will need to look at its domestic laws first.

Anifah, however, stressed that the international community must also play its role in providing assistance and concrete solutions to the refugee problem.

“This is not just an Asean problem. This also a problem of the international community,” the foreign minister said, using the acronym for the Association of South East Asian Nations.

Today’s three-way meeting comes as Myanmar — the newest addition to the 10-member Asean ― faces global criticism for its state-sanctioned persecution of the Muslim Rohingya community, leading to their mass migration.

Nearly 3,000 migrants left adrift in boats in Southeast Asia’s seas have swum to shore or been rescued off Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand over the past week after a Thai crackdown prompted human traffickers to abandon their human cargo.

Anifah said today’s meeting resolved that while Myanmar must take steps to find a solution to its domestic situation, the international community must lend a hand.

“While we believe Myanmar should solve the problem, it is not their sole responsibility. The international community must help too,” he said.

Anifah acknowledged that a solution may be hard to push forward with Myanmar’s refusal to cooperate on the Rohingya issue, but noted that Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand are willing to “take it step by step”.

Recently, Myanmar’s Prime Minister Thein Sein had reportedly said they will boycott the Asean summit if the Rohingya issue is on the meeting agenda.

Anifah said he expects to meet his counterpart from Myanmar in the near future.

“Maybe I can talk to him directly about this,” he said.

Anifah added that the temporary shelter will only be opened for the 7,000 now adrift in sea and that Malaysia will not receive any new migrants seeking refuge.