Wed | Jan 23, 2019

Malaysia turns away 2 boats with more than 800 migrants

Published:Friday | May 15, 2015 | 12:00 AM
An ethnic Rohingya man carries a plastic bag containing his belongings at a temporary shelter in Lapang, Aceh province, Indonesia, yesterday.
UNHCR workers question ethnic Rohingya women at a temporary shelter in Lapang, Aceh province, Indonesia, yesterday.


Thousands of Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis abandoned at sea by human traffickers had nowhere to go yesterday as Malaysia turned away two boats crammed with more than 800 migrants, saying it could not afford to keep being "nice".

Indonesia and Thailand also appeared unwilling to provide refuge to desperate men, women and children, despite appeals by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, international aid agencies and rights activists, who warned lives were at risk.

Fearing arrests, captains tied to trafficking networks have in recent days abandoned ships in the busy Malacca Strait and surrounding waters, leaving behind their human cargo, in many cases with little food or water, according to survivors.

Around 1,600 have been rescued, but an estimated 6,000 remain stranded at sea.

human ping pong

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch Asia accused Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia of playing "a three-way game of human ping pong".

Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar said about 500 people on-board a boat found Wednesday off the coast of northern Penang state, just days after more than a thousand refugees were taken in on nearby Langkawi island, were given provisions and then sent on their way.

"What do you expect us to do?" he said. "We have been very nice to the people who broke into our border. We have treated them humanely, but they cannot be flooding our shores like this."

"We have to send the right message that they are not welcome here."

Another boat carrying about 300 migrants was turned away near Langkawi island overnight, according to two Malaysian officials who declined to be identified because they weren't authorised to speak to the press.

Malaysia's Maritime Enforcement Agency director-general Mohammad Amdan Kurish said all vessels ferrying illegal immigrants will be escorted out of Malaysian waters, and patrols were being stepped up.