Bringing an end to a two-week saga, Indonesia and Malaysia have agreed to take in thousands of Rohingya “boat people” who had been stranded at sea in Southeast Asia.
The Muslim Rohingyas fled prosecution from the Buddhist-majority in Myanmar. The problem has been that Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand have often turned many boats away, leaving the migrants adrift.
The New York Times reports that today there was finally some good news:
“Responding to international pressure to save the migrants, many of whom have been adrift in rickety boats for weeks with little food or water, the agreement by Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand was a potential lifesaver. It reverses the previous position of those governments, whose navies had been pushing boatloads of desperate migrants away from their shores in what international aid groups characterized as a dangerous game of human Ping-Pong.
“‘It’s extremely welcome news,’ said Joe Lowry, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration in Bangkok. ‘It’s the right thing to do. They should get the helicopters and planes and boats out there to look for these people.'”
Reuters reports that Malaysia and Indonesia said they needed help from the international community to deal with the influx of refugees. Reuters reports:
“‘What we have clearly stated is that we will take in only those people in the high sea,’ Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said. ‘But under no circumstances would we be expected to take each one of them if there is an influx of others.’
“Malaysia and Indonesia said in a joint statement in Kuala Lumpur that they would offer ‘resettlement and repatriation,’ a process that would be ‘done in a year by the international community.'”
If you’re looking for background on the situation, our co-blogger Scott Neuman wrote a piece trying to explain why governments in Asia have been reluctant to take in the refugees. In short, it has to do with religious and ethnic prejudices as well as fears that taking in some refugees could result in a larger influx of migrants.