Indonesia, Malaysia agree to help stranded migrants

May 21, 2015 08:55
Indonesian marine police prepare to receive hundreds of refugees after the migrants were left adrift at sea for more than a week. Photo: WSJ

More than 400 exhausted and starving Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants staggered ashore after their boat was towed into a tiny fishing port off Indonesia's Aceh province.

The three-decked, green-painted wooden trawler had been blocked from coming ashore for more than a week, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

On Wednesday, Southeast Asian governments announced temporary refuge for thousands stranded at sea.

The trawler brought international attention to the migrant crisis in the region after hundreds of men, women and children were photographed pleading for help last week.

Naval patrols from Thailand and Malaysia had pushed the boat out from their waters.

Responding to the escalating crisis, Malaysia and Indonesia on Wednesday agreed to provide humanitarian assistance and shelter for up to a year to migrants in Southeast Asian waters but stopped short of sending search and rescue operations to seek out boats in peril.

Malaysia and Indonesia said the temporary shelter is being offered provided the "resettlement and repatriation process will be done in one year by the international community”.

The countries would also provide humanitarian assistance to those still at sea while calling on the international community to provide “necessary support, particularly financial assistance” to Indonesia and Malaysia in responding to the migrant crisis.

Thailand will assist migrants in distress at sea but will not offer shelter.

Governments have warned they can’t become a magnet for a flood of poor, uneducated migrants, whether they are fleeing persecution or poverty.

They did not say how much it would cost to care for the latest migrants.

Last year, the Malaysian deputy home minister said the government spends nearly US$10 a day for each illegal immigrant detained in the country.

If medical expenses are included, it can go up to an average of about US$20 per person.

The International Organization for Migration has released US$1 million to help pay for food, medicine, staff and shelter.

United States Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a visit to Jakarta on Wednesday that the US might take in some people who fit the UN criteria for refugee status.

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