Over 430 migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar's ethnic Rohingya community, who had been drifting at sea for months, were brought ashore in Indonesia on Wednesday, after being rescued by local fishermen. Both Indonesia and Malaysia have now agreed to shelter these migrants and others in a bid to resolve the humanitarian crisis in the region.
While citizens of Bangladesh are fleeing poverty to look for jobs outside their country, which is one of the poorest in the world, Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims are fleeing religious persecution as the country's government has refused to recognize them as legitimate citizens.
Khairul Nove of Indonesia’s search and rescue authority said almost 500 people were being towed in on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press (AP). "They were suffering from dehydration, they are weak and starving," he said.
Ubaydul Haque, one of the rescued migrants, told AP that the captain had fled the ship after its engines failed, leaving them at sea for four months before they were discovered by Indonesian fishermen. Other migrants reportedly told activists that they had been towed out to sea thrice by the Thai and Malaysian navies, though the Thai navy reportedly gave them supplies and water.
"We ran out of food, we wanted to enter Malaysia but we were not allowed," Haque reportedly said.
The rescue came one day after Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi said his country had "given more than it should" in addressing the crisis. "This irregular migration is not the problem of one or two nations. This is a regional problem which also happens in other places. This is also a global problem," he told reporters, according to CBS News.
Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have been holding talks to address the ongoing regional crisis. Indonesia and Malaysia on Wednesday agreed to provide temporary shelter to migrants still stranded at sea, according to local news site Rappler, and Thailand had earlier announced a “transit area” to provide short-term humanitarian assistance to them.
The United Nations and international rights groups have criticized regional governments’ response, which they say has been uncoordinated and irresponsible. The International Organization for Migration accused Southeast Asian countries of playing “maritime ping-pong” with the lives of thousands of migrants.
An estimated 8,000 migrants are thought to be adrift in the Andaman Sea, but other estimates have put that number as high as 20,000.