Malaysia, Indonesia agree to provide temporary shelter to boat people

Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, Ms Retno Marsudi (left); Malaysia, Datuk Seri Anifah Aman (right), and Thailand, Mr Tanasak Patimapragorn (centre) in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on May 20, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA
Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, Ms Retno Marsudi (left); Malaysia, Datuk Seri Anifah Aman (right), and Thailand, Mr Tanasak Patimapragorn (centre) in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on May 20, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA

Indonesia and Malaysia on Wednesday agreed to allow an estimated 7,000 migrants still adrift in the Andaman Sea to come ashore but on condition that the international community resettles or repatriates them within a year.

Speaking after a four-hour meeting with his Indonesian and Thai counterparts, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said no specific locations for "temporary shelter" had been agreed, but he called on the rest of the world to provide the necessary support, "particularly financial assistance", for the "humanitarian assistance to the irregular migrants currently at risk".

"Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those 7,000 irregular migrants still at sea. We also agreed to offer them temporary shelter provided that the resettlement and repatriation process will be done in one year by the international community," he said. 

The migrants, mainly stateless Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and some Bangladeshi nationals, have been adrift at sea for weeks after being turned away by the three countries.

An initial group of 1,100 had been allowed to land on Malaysia’s resort island of Langkawi on May 10, while another 1,400 arrived in Aceh, Indonesia, last week.

But the countries' subsequent refusal to accept more boat people triggered mounting international condemnation as a wave of starving migrants sought to reach their shores.

“The towing and the shooing (away of boats) is not going to happen,” the Malaysian foreign minister said at a joint press conference with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi. 

The talks in Malaysia had also included Thai Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn but he did not attend the news conference.

shannont@sph.com.sg