Indonesia and Malaysia have agreed to provide temporary shelter to thousands of migrants and human trafficking victims trapped at sea.
The agreement was announced Wednesday after talks among the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Until now, the three countries had expressed an unwillingness to help the estimated 7,000 migrants.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman spoke to reporters about the agreement. He said Malaysia and Indonesia will “continue to provide humanitarian assistance” to the migrants. “We also agreed to offer them temporary shelter provided that the resettlement and repatriation process will be done in one year by the international community,” he said.
The Malaysian official called on other countries and non-governmental organizations to join the humanitarian effort.
Thai officials would not promise to provide shelter to those at sea. They said instead they will provide humanitarian assistance and let sick refugees come to land for treatment.
Human Rights Watch praised the deal. The group’s Phil Robertson said it should mark the end of policies under which Southeast Asian governments forced the boats carrying migrants back to sea. But he expressed dissatisfaction that Thailand did not agree to also provide shelter for the boat people.
Nearly 3,000 individuals have been rescued or made their way to Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand. But rights groups warn thousands more are likely still at sea and running low on supplies.
The crisis began earlier this month when Thailand took steps against human trafficking groups that targeted the Rohingya. The traffickers fled, leaving thousands of migrants at sea.
On Wednesday, Myanmar said it is also ready to help the migrants. A foreign ministry statement said the government is deeply concerned “with the sufferings and life-threatening fate” of the boat people.
Many of those individuals are minority Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladesh.
On Tuesday, the United Nations directly appealed to the leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to let the refugees set foot on land. The U.N. said the first goal must be, “saving lives, protecting rights and respecting human dignity.”
Peter McCawley studies Southeast Asia for the Australian National University. He says the migrants are mostly from the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar, also called Burma.
“Now there are these large camps on the border between the two countries, and they really are not accepted by either country.”
Most Rohingya are Muslims. They are denied citizenship and other rights in Myanmar, where most people are Buddhists. Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya. It considers them illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
The United Nations has repeatedly called for Myanmar to provide full citizenship and other rights to the Rohingya. Its statement on Tuesday called for new efforts to identify the root causes of refugee and migrant flows, including discrimination, deprivation, persecution and violations of human rights.”
I’m Anna Matteo.
This report was based on a story from VOA’s News Division. George Grow adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.
Words in This Story
migrants – n. people who move from one place to another, often to find work
repatriation – n. returning an individual to his or her home country
dignity – n. the quality of being worthy of honor or respect
deprivation – n. lacking something that is needed
persecution – n. the condition of being abused or threatened because of one’s religion or ethnicity