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Malaysia to push back Rohingya unless boats are sinking

Published:Wednesday | May 13, 2015 | 12:00 AM


A crisis involving boatloads of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants stranded at sea deepened yesterday as Malaysia said it would turn away any more of the vessels unless they were sinking.

The waters around Malaysia's Langkawi island, where several crowded, wooden vessels have landed in recent days carrying more than 1,000 men, women and children, would be patrolled 24 hours a day by eight ships, said Tan Kok Kwee, first admiral of Malaysia's maritime enforcement agency.

"We won't let any foreign boats come in," Tan said. If the boats are sinking, they would rescue them, but if the boat are found to be seaworthy, the agency will provide "provisions and send them away," he said.




One boat sent out a distress signal, with migrants saying they had been without food and water for three days, according to Chris Lewa, director of the non-profit Arakan Project, who spoke by phone to people on the boat.

"They asked to be urgently rescued," she said, adding there were an estimated 350 people on board, and that they had no fuel.

Southeast Asia is the grips of a spiraling humanitarian crisis as boats packed with Rohingya and Bangladeshis are being washed ashore, some after being stranded at sea for more than two months. A regional crackdown on human traffickers has essentially spooked agents and brokers, who have refused to take people to shore.

It reached a tipping point this weekend, when some captains and smugglers abandoned their ships, leaving migrants to fend for themselves with little food or drinking water.

In the last three days, the 1,158 people landed on Langkawi island, according to Malaysian authorities, and 600 others in Indonesia's westernmost province of Aceh. With thousands more believed to be trapped in vessels at sea, that number is expected to climb, said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division.

Malaysia's announcement comes a day after Indonesia also turned back a ship, giving those on board rice, noodles, water and directions to go to Malaysia.