Malaysian PM orders migrant search and rescue operation

Najib Razak tweets about need to save lives after migrants recalled being turned away from Malaysian waters at gunpoint.

An abandoned boat which carried Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants from Thailand is found off the coast near the city of Kuta Binje
Thousands of migrants are estimated to be floating in the Malacca Strait in boats like this one found off Indonesia [Reuters]

A day after migrants recounted being turned away from Malaysian waters at gunpoint, Malaysia’s Prime Minister says he has ordered the navy to conduct urgent search and rescue operations to save others stuck on boats in the Strait of Malacca.

In a tweet on Thursday, Prime Minister Najib Razak said: “I have further ordered [the Royal Malaysian Navy] and APMM to conduct search and rescue efforts on Rohingya boats. We have to prevent loss of life.”

His request came after Malaysia and Indonesia issued a statement on Wednesday saying they would “continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those 7,000 irregular migrants still at sea”, and offer them temporary shelter.

That agreement, however, came with conditions.

The Southeast Asian nations requested financial assistance from the international community and said that the migrants must be resettled and repatriated by the international community within a year.

The statement was issued just hours after about 400 migrants were rescued by local fishermen in the Strait of Malacca, off Indonesia’s Aceh province, after their stricken boat was reportedly turned away numerous times from the Thai and Malaysian coasts by authorities.

Sick and weak

Stranded Rohingya migrants speak to Al Jazeera

Witnesses in Aceh said that many of the rescued migrants were in tears when they made it to land, with many very sick and weak.

Migrants told Al Jazeera they had been sent away by the Thai navy on three occasions and Malaysian authorities twice.

The second time they were rebuffed by Malaysian authorities, they say they were held at gunpoint and told that their ship would be sunk if they did not turn around.

“They received supplies from Thai navy but were sent back and forth between Thailand and Malaysia before they were finally rescued in Indonesia,” said Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen.

Thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants have been attempting to travel across the Malacca Strait to live in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

Meanwhile, Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister Thant Kyaw indicated his country would likely join regional talks in Bangkok next week.

“We all have to sit down and we all have to consider how to tackle this problem together,” he told reporters in Bangkok after meeting his Thai counterpart.

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US deputy secretary of state Antony Blinken told reporters in Jakarta on Wednesday that the US provide aid to Southeast Asian nations tackling the crisis.

“We’re in conversation and discussion with all of the relevant governments – including here in Indonesia – about other concrete ways that we can help to share some of these burdens, because Indonesia in taking in so many people is assuming a big burden,” he said.

“And we’re looking at very practical ways in how we can help them assume that burden.”

Offering a very different solution, Gambia said in a statement on Wednesday that it would take in all Rohingya migrants as part of its “sacred duty” to alleviate the suffering of fellow Muslims flooding Southeast Asia to escape oppression.

Source: Al Jazeera