Send boatpeople back home, says Malaysia amid growing crisis at sea
KUALA LUMPUR / BANGKOK - Reuters
AFP PhotoMalaysia said on May 14 it would push boats full of migrants back to sea, a policy that has drawn criticism from the U.N. refugee agency as thousands remained adrift in Southeast Asian waters.
The UNHCR has said several thousand migrants have been abandoned at sea by smugglers following a Thai crackdown on human trafficking and has warned the situation could develop into a “massive humanitarian crisis.”
The crackdown has made traffickers wary of landing in Thailand, the preferred destination for the region’s people smuggling networks, and led to a surge in migrants to Indonesia and Malaysia.
“We are sending them the right signal, to send them to where they came from,” Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said.
“Their country is not at war. If there is nothing wrong with the ship, they should sail back to their own country.”
An estimated 25,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya boarded rickety smugglers’ boats in the first three months of this year, twice as many in the same period of 2014, the UNHCR has said.
The agency has called for a coordinated search and rescue operation.
“The first priority is to save lives,” said Volker Turk, the UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, in a statement on Wednesday. Malaysia said the UNHCR should find another country for the migrants.
Malaysian officials could not confirm media reports of at least two more boats with hundreds on board being pushed back to sea. Thailand ordered a clean-up of suspected traffickers’ camps last week after 33 bodies, believed to be of migrants, were found in shallow graves near the Malaysian border.