KUALA LUMPUR: Indonesia and Malaysia agreed Wednesday to provide temporary shelter to thousands of migrants believed to be stranded at sea, a potential breakthrough in the humanitarian crisis confronting Southeast Asia after weeks of reluctance by the region’s nations to take responsibility.
The announcement was made by Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman after a meeting with his counterparts from Indonesia and Thailand called to address the plight of the migrants. Most of them are the long-persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar and others are Bangladeshis fleeing poverty.
“Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those 7,000 irregular migrants at sea,” Anifah told reporters, reading from a statement. He said the two countries “also agreed to provide them temporary shelter provided that the resettlement and repatriation process will be done in one year by the international community.”
A few thousand migrants have already made it to shore in Indonesia’s Aceh province and Malaysia’s Langkawi island. About 450 were rescued by Indonesian fishermen on Wednesday and brought ashore.
He did not say if the refugees would still be accepted even if there was no cooperation from the international community, or when the humanitarian process will start. Also, it is not clear how the three governments reached the figure of 7,000 refugees. The U.N. refugee agency believes there are some 4,000 at sea although some activists had initially put the number at 6,000.
Anifah said Malaysia and Indonesia invite other countries in the region to “join in this endeavor.”
Significantly, the agreement does not include Thailand even though it participated in the talks. Thailand has previously said it cannot afford to take any more migrants since it is already overburdened by tens of thousands of other refugees fromMyanmar.
Anifah also urged the international community to “uphold their responsibility and urgently share the burden of providing the necessary support to Malaysia, Indonesiaand Thailand in addressing the problem.”