Malaysia stops migrants towed back to sea

2015-05-16 15:37
Migrants being transported to a shelter. (Binsar Bakkara, AP)

Migrants being transported to a shelter. (Binsar Bakkara, AP)

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Koh Lipe - Malaysian vessels on Saturday intercepted a boat crammed with migrants after the Thai navy towed it away from Thailand, the latest of a number of vessels pushed back to sea by governments who have ignored a UN call for an immediate rescue.

Thousands of people are adrift in the Andaman Sea after smugglers abandoned their vessels following a Thai crackdown on human trafficking. Many of the migrants are thirsty and sick.

Migrants aboard the vessel were visibly distressed on the packed deck under a blazing sun, a witness said. Women were crying and some waved their arms and shouted, he said.

Push boats back

The boat has been towed back out to sea by the Thai navy twice after drifting for days. On both occasions, the navy fixed its engine and supplied it with food, water and fuel before towing it out of Thai waters.

The migrants told the Thai navy on Saturday they wanted to go to Malaysia, said the officer aboard a patrol boat.

"We fixed their engine and showed them where Malaysia is," the officer said.

After the Thais released it, the boat entered neighbouring Malaysian waters where it was intercepted, he said.

It was unclear what the Malaysian authorities would do with the migrants. But Malaysia's government said this week it would push boats back to sea as it did not want to receive large numbers of illegal migrants.

The International Organisation for Migration has criticised the region's governments for playing "maritime ping-pong" with the migrants and endangering their lives.

Fleeing persecution

The United Nations this week urged governments to fulfil an obligation to rescue those at sea and "keep their borders and ports open ... to help the vulnerable people who are in need".

But there was no sign of a coordinated rescue operation, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said on Saturday.

Nearly 800 migrants came ashore in Aceh in Indonesia on Friday, taking the number that have made land in Indonesia and the northwest of Malaysia to more than 2 500 over the past week.The Thai clampdown has made the preferred trafficking route through Thailand too risky for criminals preying on Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar and Bangladeshis seeking to escape poverty.

An estimated 25 000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya boarded smugglers' boats in the first three months of this year, twice as many in the same period of 2014, the UNHCR has said.

Read more on:    malaysia  |  migrants

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