Indonesia, Malaysia offer Rohingya temporary shelter

Indonesia, Malaysia offer Rohingya temporary shelter
After refusing to help thousands of long suffering Rohingya migrants stranded at sea, Indonesia and Malaysia Wednesday changed policy and offered them temporary refuge.
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Hundreds of starving, dehydrated and frightened migrants were rescued by local fishermen from their wooden vessel off Indonesia's Aceh province on Wednesday, as Malaysia and Indonesia said they would no longer turn them away.

Search and rescue officials said that 433 people, who were Rohingya from Myanmar, had been rescued off Aceh's coast in the early hours.

A first group of 102 were brought to shore at 2 am (1900 GMT Tuesday) and taken to a village in East Aceh district, said search and rescue agency official Khairul Nova.

The second group were brought to a port in East Aceh a few hours later, said another official, Sadikin, who goes by one name.

He said the breakdown of those on board was 70 children and babies, 70 women and 293 men.

Fishermen Muchtar Ali broke down in tears when he set eyes on the overcrowded boat carrying desperate, starving Rohingyas off the coast of Indonesia before going to the rescue of a vessel that has become emblematic of Asia's human-trafficking crisis.

"I was speechless," Ali said, recalling the moment he saw the boatload of more than 400 Muslim migrants who are fleeing persecution in their native Myanmar, which is predominantly Buddhist.

"Looking at these people, me and my friends cried because they looked so hungry, so skinny." 

If they are not accepted as citizens they cannot just be pushed out to sea. They are humans entitled to human rights

The persecution of Rohingya 

The relentless persecution of the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar has been documented by international rights group, but came into the international spotlight as thousands of desperate migrants from the country - alongside economic migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh - have swum or been rescued off the coasts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand in recent days.

Myanmar's estimated 1.3 million Rohingya are not accepted as an ethnic group and most are denied citizenship.

They have long been subjected to daily prejudice and a raft of severe restrictions such as controls on movement and family size.

Deadly communal violence in western Rakhine state between Muslims and Buddhists in 2012 saw their situation deteriorate dramatically, displacing tens of thousands who remain trapped in miserable camps.

The violence was the catalyst for a huge exodus of migrants across the Bay of Bengal, with thousands taking to makeshift boats heading for Thailand, Malaysia and beyond.

Nearly 3,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants have made it to shore in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia in recent days after a Thai crackdown disrupted people-trafficking routes, prompting operators of rickety boats to dump their human cargo.

Those who have arrived were either abandoned on the coast or in shallow waters, or rescued from sinking boats, with the three nations sparking outrage by turning away vessels deemed still seaworthy.

Thousands more migrants are believed to be stranded at sea without food or water, and international pressure is growing for Southeast Asian nations to open their ports to the vessels, with the United Nations and the US both calling for swift action.

"If they are not accepted (as citizens), they cannot just be sent onto rivers. Can't be pushed out to sea. They are humans. I just see them as humans who are entitled to human rights,"  National League for Democracy in Burma spokesperson Nyan Win said.

Those who have arrived were either abandoned on the coast or in shallow waters, or rescued from sinking boats, with the three nations sparking outrage by turning away vessels deemed still seaworthy

Taking responsibility 

Southeast Asian nations have faced criticism for their failure to curb what is seen as Buddhist-majority Myanmar's systematic abuse of its unwanted Rohingya people, which has sent masses of the Muslim ethnic minority fleeing abroad.

Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand sparked growing international outrage for driving off boats overloaded with exhausted and dying Rohingya, as well as Bangladeshis.

Myanmar insists the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, for whom it is not responsible.

In recent years an increasing number of Bangladeshis have also joined the Rohingya exodus across the Bay of Bengal, seeking to escape grinding poverty in their homeland.

But after weeks of turning away boats with migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia have agreed to provide them with temporary shelter.

The announcement was made Wednesday by Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman after a meeting with his counterparts from Indonesia and Thailand to address the plight of the migrants.

Anifah told reporters that the two countries agreed to give the estimated 7,000 migrants stranded at sea temporary shelter "provided that the resettlement and repatriation process will be done in one year by the international community."

"We also agreed to offer them temporary shelter provided that the resettlement and repatriation process will be done in one year by the international community," Anifah said.

A few thousand migrants have already made it to shore in Indonesia's Aceh province and Malaysia's Langkawi island.

The UN refugee agency says that with the agreement in place to accept migrants stranded at sea, it is now urgent for them to be brought ashore without delay.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement that immediate first aid and other care need to be provided "without delay."

It says it agrees with the foreign ministers of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand that issues addressing root causes of the crisis also need addressing, and that it stands ready to work with countries in the region to find solutions to the plight of the migrants.

The agency says these ultimately may include returning people to their home countries voluntarily and once conditions allow.

In a joint statement, Anifah and Marsudi said the "root causes" of the migrant exodus must be addressed but did not single out any country.

They recommended convening an emergency meeting of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which Malaysia chairs this year. Myanmar also is a member.

They also called on the international community to share the financial burden of sheltering and resettling the migrants.