Malaysia turns away 2 boats with more than 800 migrants
LANGKAWI, Malaysia (AP) — Thousands of Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis abandoned at sea had nowhere to turn Thursday as Malaysia turned away two boats crammed with more than 800 migrants, saying it could not afford to keep being nice.
Indonesia and Thailand also appeared unwilling to provide refuge to men, women and children, despite appeals by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, international aid agencies and rights activists, who warned lives were at risk.
Fearing arrests, captains tied to trafficking networks have in recent days abandoned ships in the busy Malacca Strait and surrounding waters, leaving behind their human cargo, in many cases with little food or water, according to survivors.
Around 1,600 have been rescued, but an estimated 6,000 remain stranded at sea.
Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi said about 500 people on board a boat found Wednesday off the coast of northern Penang state — three days after more than a thousand refugees landed on nearby Langkawi island — were given provisions and then sent on their way.
“What do you expect us to do?” he said. “We have been very nice to the people who broke into our border. We have treated them humanely but they cannot be flooding our shores like this.”
“We have to send the right message that they are not welcome here,” he said.
Another boat carrying about 300 migrants was turned away inhumanely near Langkawi Island overnight, according to two Malaysian officials who declined to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak to the press.
Southeast Asia, which for years tried to quietly ignore the plight of Myanmar’s 1.3 million Rohingya, now finds itself caught in a spiraling humanitarian crisis that in many ways it helped create.
In the last three years, more than 120,000 members of the Muslim minority have boarded ships to flee to other countries, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
But no governments in the region appear willing to take them in, fearing that accepting a few would result in an unstoppable flow of these innocent people. At the same time, they have for years bowed to the wishes of Myanmar at regional conferences, avoiding all discussions of state-sponsored discrimination against the Rohingya.
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