More than 700 migrants, most of them from Bangladesh and Myanmar, were rescued after their boat sank off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh province on Friday. The report of the rescue comes amid a growing refugee crisis in Southeast Asia, where nearly 25,000 people have attempted to cross the Bay of Bengal to reach Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia between January and March.
“The local fishermen saw the boat as it was sinking and then they helped them,” Sunarya, police chief in the city of Langsa, where the migrants arrived, reportedly said. “According to initial information we got from them, they were pushed away by the Malaysian navy to the border of Indonesian waters,” added the official, who goes by one name.
The incident, which reportedly took place in the early hours of Friday, comes just a day after the Malaysian government turned back two refugee boats carrying over 800 migrants. Malaysia has since closed its territory to migrants flooding its shores and said that it would only consider rescuing asylum seekers on humanitarian grounds if their boats capsized.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian navy prevented the entry of another migrant boat with hundreds aboard on Friday, according to media reports. Earlier in the day, a boat with over 400 migrants had been towed out to sea by the Thai navy. It is not clear if the boat rejected by Indonesia is the same vessel.
“Those on the boat did not want to come to Thailand so we gave them food, medicine, fuel and water,” Veerapong Nakprasit, a Thai naval officer, told Reuters. “We did our humanitarian duty. They wanted to go to a third country. They did not want to come to Thailand so we sent them on their way. This is not a push back because these people wanted to go.”
An estimated 8,000 Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants are now believed to be stranded at sea near the Malacca Strait where they have been abandoned by traffickers.
“What we have now is a game of maritime Ping-Pong,” Joe Lowry, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration in Bangkok, reportedly said. “It’s maritime Ping-Pong with human life. What’s the endgame? I don’t want to be too overdramatic, but if these people aren’t treated and brought to shore soon, we are going to have a boat full of corpses.”