Indonesia and Malaysia agreed Wednesday to provide temporary shelter to thousands of migrants stranded at sea, the first breakthrough in the humanitarian crisis confronting Southeast Asia after weeks of reluctance by the region’s nations to take responsibility reported by The Associated Press.
The announcement was made by Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman after a meeting with his counterpart from Indonesia and Thailand, called to address the plight of the migrants. Most of them are the long-persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar and others are Bangladeshis fleeing poverty.
“Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those 7,000 irregular migrants at sea,” Anifah told reporters.
He said the two countries “also agreed to provide them temporary shelter provided that the resettlement and repatriation process will be done in one year by the international community.”
“In the meantime, Malaysia and Indonesia invite other countries in the region to join in this endeavor” he said.
A few thousand migrants have already made it to shore in Indonesia’s Aceh province and Malaysia’s Langkawi island.
Most of the victims are believed to be victims of human traffickers, who recruit them in Myanmar’s Sittwe province and in Bangladesh with promises to give them safe passage to Malaysia, and jobs once they land there.
But in reality, they are held for ransom, either on the trawlers or in jungle camps in Thailand through which they transit before slipping into neighboring Malaysia. The victims then have to ask their relatives back home to give money to the smugglers in return for their release.
“The enforcement agencies of the countries concerned will continue to share intelligence information in their efforts to combat people smuggling and human trafficking,” Anifah said.
Anifah also urged the international community to “uphold their responsibility and urgently share the burden of providing the necessary support to Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand in addressing the problem.
He said the three countries propose that the international community should provide them with financial assistance to enable them to help the migrants who would be sheltered in a designated area to be agreed by the affected countries and administered by a joint task force.
The international community should also take responsibility for the repatriation of the migrants to their countries of origin or resettlement in the third countries within a period of one year.