KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia said Sunday its foreign minister would meet his Indonesian and Thai counterparts to discuss the influx of boatpeople to Southeast Asia as international pressure grew for a regional solution.
The three nations have sparked outrage by turning away vessels overloaded with migrants from Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya minority and with poor Bangladeshis.
Officials have increasingly pointed the finger at Myanmar and its alleged systematic persecution of Rohingya for fuelling the mass migration.
“Myanmar should deal with the Rohingya community internally instead of forcing it on its (Southeast Asian) neighbors,” Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was quoted by local media on Sunday as saying.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman was to host Indonesia’s Retno Marsudi in the city of Kota Kinabalu on Borneo island on Monday, a government official said.
That would be followed by separate talks between Anifah and Thai Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn later in the week, most probably on Wednesday.
The official declined further comment but confirmed the meetings were called in response to the migrant crisis.
Earlier, state media said Anifah was to meet in Malaysia on Sunday with Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali.
His trip to Malaysia was arranged before the migrant crisis.
“It (boat people) is one of the topics and a very important issue in the agenda,” Anifah was quoted as saying in a brief dispatch by official news agency Bernama.
Nearly 3,000 migrants have been rescued or swum ashore in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand in recent days, giving grim accounts of people dying at sea of starvation, sickness or drowning when rickety boats sank.
Activists say thousands more are feared to be drifting helplessly at sea after a Thai crackdown on human-trafficking disrupted busy migration routes from the Bay of Bengal to Southeast Asia.
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 ten years as leader, said the situation—Southeast 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.”
On Saturday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak urged Myanmar to help solve what he called a “humanitarian catastrophe.”
“Malaysia has played a large part but we are not the source of the problem,” Bernama quoted him saying.
Myanmar has previously steadfastly refused to discuss the issue in regional forums. It considers Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, denying them citizenship, and disavows responsibility for them.
It has already rejected an invitation from Thailand to attend a May 29 meeting there to address the crisis.
In contrast to the Rohingya, the Bangladeshi boatpeople are believed to be mainly economic migrants seeking to escape their country’s grinding poverty.
Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque — who works under foreign minister Ali — on Saturday said his country was struggling to contain surging illegal migration through the Bay of Bengal.
He blamed the high numbers of Rohingya fleeing abroad and called for international pressure on Myanmar.
“The Rohingya crisis has been created by Myanmar, which will have to find a solution,” Haque said.