Indonesia and Malaysia have agreed to take in thousands of Rohingya "boat people" who had been stranded at sea in Southeast Asia.
The Muslim Rohingyas fled prosecution from the Buddhist-majority in Myanmar.
The problem has been that Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand has been turning many boats away, leaving the desperate migrants adrift.
Spokesperson for the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Ministry, Armanatha Nasir explains the deal.
“So the decision essentially states that when the refugees come we are willing to provide assistance to them. But we are also asking for assistance to UNHCR so they can be processed and categorized. If it is true they are asylum seekers, they can be resettled in a third country. But if they are just victims of trafficking, they will be returned to their home country,” he said.
Malaysia and Indonesia said in a joint statement in Kuala Lumpur that they want the International community to get the 'resettlement and repatriation ' process 'done in a year’.
But Muhammad Malek who is now sheltering in Aceh after months at sea says he wants to stay in Indonesia.
"We have come here thanks be to God. We want to find jobs here. We are happy here. We are asking if we can stay here. We are all Muslims. Please help us so we can continue to live here. We do not want to return to Bangladesh and Myanmar,” he said.
The United Nations has describes the Muslim Rohingya as one most persecuted people in the world.
Most of them have lived in Rakhine state, in western Myanmar, for generations, yet have always been denied citizenship by the government.
About 150,000 were pushed into refugee camps after two bouts of vicious ethnic violence in Rakhine state in 2012.
Since then increasing numbers have been trying to escape by sea to Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
An unprecedented 25,000 of them, including Rohingya from Bangladesh, got on boats during the first quarter of this year, desperate to get out before the start of the tropical monsoon season that makes traveling almost impossible.
And unprecedented numbers are dying.
U Aung Min, is the minister for the Myanmar’s President’s office.
He told Asia Calling’s correspondent Zaw Zin Nyi that the Rohingya migrant crisis is not their problem.
“The refugee crisis is not only in Myanmar, it is global world crisis. In some places, it is worse than this. People are always looking for better economic opportunities. Migration could happen at any time. But the problem here is human trafficking. In our country, we take this matter seriously.
"As human beings our government feels sympathy for those who are trapped at sea. There is principle that everyone should help them. Although the root cause of the problem started from in other countries but they blame our country instead. We will verify whether these people are from our country or come from other countries. That is what we have discussed with diplomats. Now, our navy are on rescue missions, then we will announce the figure."
Q. Other countries say the root cause of the problem is in Myanmar?
"This is politics. Those countries do not have a solution for this crisis and want to have someone to blame so they blame us. For example, they only interview about 4, 5, 6 people who said they were from Myanmar. In fact, they should interview everyone. I am not saying there are no people from Myanmar amongst the group but they are in the minority. That's why, we want to verify how many came from Myanmar otherwise--- this has nothing to do with us. We will work with the UNHCR to compile the refugee figures."
Q. Will the government allow them to re-enter the country?
"We will act according to our law. If they have identity cards they are our citizens. If they do not, there are invaders who came to this country illegally.”
Aung Myo Min, is director of the local rights group "Equality Myanmar". He says it’s clear the problem starts in Myanmar:
“I don't want to argue about whether they are originally from Burma or migrants from Bangladesh. But they are not entitled to face this kind of discrimination. The legal issue should be dealt with the citizenship law. But while that is being worked out they should not subjected to any form of human right violation like torture, violence, extra-judicial killings and disappearances. Unfortunately, this is all taking place. There is communal violent taking place in the Arakan state between Buddhist Arakanese and Muslim Rohingya people. Of cause, there are casualty on both sides but Rohingya people are suffering more because they are in the minority. There is no justice at all. No access to justice and judicial processes. So their life is desperate. They are put in refugee camps which are cut off from the rest of society. So they have two choices, living in the area like that or decide to leave. So most of them decided to leave so they become boat people right now.”
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