Stop the blame game: Former Indonesian president Yudhoyono on migrant crisis

Indonesia's former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Sunday urged nations to seek a solution instead of assigning blame over the migrant crisis engulfing Southeast Asia, warning that hundreds of lives are at stake. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Indonesia's former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Sunday urged nations to seek a solution instead of assigning blame over the migrant crisis engulfing Southeast Asia, warning that hundreds of lives are at stake. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

JAKARTA (AFP) - Indonesia's former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Sunday urged nations to seek a solution instead of assigning blame over the migrant crisis engulfing Southeast Asia, warning that hundreds of lives are at stake.

Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand have triggered international outrage by turning away boatloads of desperate Rohingya migrants from Myanmar as well as Bangladeshis, who are now in limbo at sea with little food and nowhere to go.

Yudhoyono, whose presidency ended in October after 10 years as leader, said the situation - South-east Asia's biggest migrant crisis since the end of the Vietnam War - needed an urgent regional response, not endless finger pointing.

"It is not fair that the blame is Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand's alone," he wrote on his official Twitter account on Sunday.

"Myanmar and Bangladesh cannot wash their hands of this."

Myanmar's cooperation is deemed vital to solving the crisis as thousands of those at sea are Muslim Rohingya fleeing oppression in the mainly Buddhist country.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi is scheduled to travel to Kuala Lumpur on Monday to meet her Malaysian and Thai counterparts to discuss the surge in boat people.

But Myanmar - which denies the Muslim Rohingya citizenship - has already rejected a Thai call for a regional summit on the issue on May 29.

Yudhoyono, who during his presidency grappled with a major uptick in refugees arriving in Indonesia en route to Australia, said the crisis was not a "test" for any one nation.

"I sincerely hope Asean and the UN could soon look for solutions and not just blame," he said.

"Action is needed quickly and appropriately so that hundreds of refugees do not die at sea."

Nearly 3,000 migrants have been rescued or swum to shore in the three countries over the past week.

Activists say thousands more are feared to be drifting at sea in rickety boats after a Thai crackdown on human-trafficking disrupted busy smuggling routes to Southeast Asia.