Islamic parties' appeal to Jokowi: Let migrants land

Thai fishermen (right) giving some supplies to migrants on a boat drifting 17km off the coast of the southern island of Koh Lipe, Thailand on May 14, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Thai fishermen (right) giving some supplies to migrants on a boat drifting 17km off the coast of the southern island of Koh Lipe, Thailand on May 14, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MPs say Indonesia should help boat people on humanitarian grounds

MEMBERS of Parliament from Indonesia's Islamic parties are exerting pressure on the government to allow boat people from Myanmar and Bangladesh to disembark on Indonesian soil.

This comes as the military said it had prevented a suspected migrant boat from entering its waters at the weekend.

Myanmar yesterday acknowledged international "concerns" about the wave of boat people and a spokesman for Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition said they were entitled to "human rights", according to wire reports.

Thailand's government was reported as saying that anti-migrant vitriol on social media showed why it could not accept any more asylum seekers.

Rohingya Muslims, a stateless minority group in Myanmar who face discrimination and persecution, have long fled the country in rickety boats, with Malaysia being a target destination.

In recent years, they have been joined by economic migrants from Bangladesh.

In what has been criticised as a perverse game of maritime ping-pong, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia have been turning away boatloads of asylum seekers from their shores.

But leaders of Indonesian Islamic parties, which together control 31 per cent of parliamentary seats, said yesterday that Indonesia for humanitarian reasons should allow these boat people to land.

"Let them disembark in one place, say an isolated island, then give them tents, food and water. Call this an emergency period after which we would then take further measures, such as repatriate them or let them continue on their journey," Mr M. Romahurmuziy, the secretary-general of Islamic United Development Party, told The Straits Times. 

There are three other Islamic parties in the Indonesian Parliament - the National Awakening Party, National Mandate Party and Prosperous Justice Party. 

"We have regular consultative meetings with President Joko Widodo. We will convey this aspiration (to him)," said Mr Romahurmuziy.

He added that Indonesia had done this in the past, when it put the Vietnamese boat people on Galang island temporarily. Galang, about 50km south-east of Batam island, housed thousands of Vietnamese refugees for years before they were repatriated in 1995.

Mr Fahri Hahzah, a deputy secretary-general of the Islamic Prosperous Justice Party, who is also deputy House speaker, said he understood that officials were turning the boats away because of a lack of legal grounds to assist the refugees and illegal migrants.

But he added that this should not have happened, the Jakarta  Globe newspaper reported. 

"(Lack of regulation) should not be an excuse to turn a blind eye to the suffering of people from other nations," the paper quoted him as saying.

"Their suffering is evident. Do we, as a nation that believes in humanity, have the heart to see them suffer?"

He urged Mr Joko to issue a presidential regulation to address the growing crisis at sea. On Sunday, the Indonesian navy stopped a boat from entering its waters, Agence France-Presse reported.

wahyudis@sph.com.sg