About 900 migrants have landed on the shores of Indonesia and Thailand after being adrift at sea for weeks, authorities said.
The migrants are among the few who have successfully sneaked past a wall of resistance mounted by Southeast Asian countries who are turning them away.
Several thousand refugees from Bangladesh and Myanmar – fleeing either poverty or persecution – are believed to be adrift on boats in the Andaman Sea in what has become a spiralling humanitarian crisis, reported the Associated Press news agency.
In recent days, about 2,000 landed in Malaysia and Indonesia, but both countries then said they could not accept any more.
“What do you expect us to do?” asked Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Jafaar on Thursday. “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.”
Fisherman towed two boats to Indonesia’s eastern Aceh province early on Friday – one with nearly 700 people and another carrying 47, police said.
A search-and-rescue official said hundreds were being housed in a warehouse.
“The latest information we have is about 794 people were found in the middle of the sea and brought ashore by fishermen at 5am,” Khairul Nova, the official in the town of Langsa in Aceh, told the Reuters news agency by telephone.
“They are now in a warehouse by the port as a temporary arrangement.”
Police sad the larger boat was on the verge of sinking when fishermen brought it to the fishing village of Lagsa.
“Some of the people told police they were abandoned at sea for days and Malaysian authorities had already turned their boat away,” said Lieutenant Colonel Sunarya, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.
He said everyone aboard was weak from hunger and dehydrated.
About 25km south of Langsa, fisherman rescued the smaller boat carrying 47 Rohingya migrants, also dehydrated and hungry, said Aceh Tamiang police chief Dicky Sandoni. They were brought to a beach at Kuala Seruway village in Aceh’s Tamiang district.
Separately, the Thai Navy found a group of 106 people, mostly men but including 15 women and two children, on a small island off the coast of Phang Nga province, an area known for its world-class scuba diving.
“It’s not clear how they ended up on the island,” said Prayoon Rattanasenee, the Phang Nga provincial governor. The group said they were Rohingya migrants from Myanmar.
“We are in the process of identifying if they were victims of human trafficking.”
The plight of Myanmar’s 1.3 million Rohingya has worsened recently and in the last three years more than 120,000 members of the Muslim minority, who are intensely persecuted in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, have boarded ships to flee to other countries, paying huge sums to human traffickers.
But faced with a regional crackdown on human trafficking, some captains and smugglers have abandoned their ships, leaving an estimated 6,000 refugees to fend for themselves, according to aid workers and human rights groups.