Malaysia defends against 'unfair' criticism after turning away migrant boats

A Rohingya migrant crying as he sits with others in a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman Sea, on May 14, 2015. Malaysia's National Security Council chairman Shahidan Kassim has defended the country against
A Rohingya migrant crying as he sits with others in a boat drifting in Thai waters off the southern island of Koh Lipe in the Andaman Sea, on May 14, 2015. Malaysia's National Security Council chairman Shahidan Kassim has defended the country against criticism of its decision to turn away migrant boats as he emphasised that the country has been extending humanitarian assistance to the migrants. -- PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's National Security Council chairman Shahidan Kassim has defended the country against criticism of its decision to turn away migrant boats as he emphasised that the country has been extending humanitarian assistance to the migrants.

Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim noted that the government did not want to adopt an open-door policy on the issue in order to prevent a flood of illegal migrants trying to make their way here, The Star reported.

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar as well as Bangladeshis are languishing in boats in the waters around Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

He said that there were already some 45,000 Rohingyas living here who are United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) cardholders.

"It is unfair of the international media to say that Malaysia is not taking in the migrants," Shahidan told parliament on Monday.

"UNHCR is supposed to make arrangements for these migrants to be sent to a third country but this has dragged on for years now," he said.

Shahidan also noted that Malaysia has been extending humanitarian assistance to the Rohingyas who have fled their country by sea.

He said that Malaysia had provided help in the form of food and water, and fuel to allow the migrants to continue their maritime voyage elsewhere.

He added that there were concerns that the Rohingyas are looking at Malaysia not as a transit point but as a country of destination.

Malaysia, which says it has already taken hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants from Myanmar, has made it clear that it wants no more and its deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Sunday that Myanmar must now take responsibility for the migrants.

Responding to a question on rumours of migrant camps and graves on the Malaysian side of the Thailand-Malaysia border, Shahidan said the issue would be addressed by the Home Ministry during parliament proceedings.

As many as 8,000 boat people, mainly stateless Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar but also some Bangladeshis, are adrift at sea after they were turned away by countries including Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Many of them had been abandoned by people smugglers spooked by Thailand's ongoing crackdown on human trafficking.

Malaysia said on Sunday it will hold talks with Indonesia and Thailand this week as it seeks a solution to the crisis in the three countries' shared maritime border.