Missing migrant boat found
Indonesia and Malaysia now offer help.
Missing migrant boat found as two countries offer shelter
Migrants found by the BBC last week drifting off the coast of Thailand have been rescued by Indonesian fishermen.
A BBC reporter on the boat, first spotted last Thursday when it was stranded with a broken engine, says it is filthy and covered in insects.
It was one of many boats carrying thousands of Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants adrift in the Andaman Sea.
Amid a mounting humanitarian crisis, Malaysia and Indonesia have said they will offer migrants temporary shelter.
However, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said they would not actively search for migrants, only provide shelter if they came ashore, and under the condition that the international community would help to repatriate or resettle them within a year.
Foreign ministers from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand held emergency talks in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.
The migrant boat which arrived off Indonesia’s northern Aceh province on Wednesday, was first spotted last Thursday.
Those on board told the BBC’s Jonathan Head at the time that they had been abandoned by people smugglers and were running out of food and water. They said 10 people on board had already died.
The Thai navy gave them food and water and later fixed the boat’s engine and towed them out to sea. Contact was then lost with the boat.
The migrants say they were towed out to sea three times by the Thai and Malaysian navies and described how the Malaysian authorities escorted them virtually the whole way to Indonesia warning them never to return.
The BBC’s Xinyan Yu, who is on board the trawler, says it is filthy and covered in bottles of pepper sauce, dirty plates and plastic bags of instant noodles. The smell is overwhelming she adds.
More than 400 people were rescued off Aceh on Wednesday. More than 2,000 people have now come to shore in that region alone.
Speaking after meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said his country and Indonesia would stop towing the boats into other territories as navies have been doing in recent days.
He said we “need to assist these people” and that “because of the conditions they are experiencing we are willing to take them on to our shores”. He estimates about 7,000 people are currently stranded on the boats.
Thailand, which was not part of the statement, later said it would continue to provide humanitarian assistance, but would not establish any shelter for them.
General Udomdej said as the migrants did not flee violence or conflict in a war zone, Thailand considers them as illegally entering the country.
Until the statements on Friday the navies of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia had prevented many of the migrant boats from coming into their territory, only accepting those that had come ashore.
Rights groups have repeatedly called on the governments of the three nations to prioritise saving the lives of those on board.
- Rohingya Muslims mainly live in Myanmar – largely in Rakhine state – where they are not considered citizens and have faced decades of persecution.
- Rights groups say migrants feel they have “no choice” but to leave, paying people smugglers to help them. The UN estimates more than 120,000 Rohingyas have fled in the past three years.
- Traffickers usually take the migrants by sea to Thailand then overland to Malaysia, often holding them hostage until their relatives pay ransoms.
- But Thailand recently began cracking down on the migrant routes, meaning traffickers are using sea routes instead, often abandoning their passengers en route.