SIMPANG TIGA, Indonesia (AP) — A flotilla of Indonesian fishermen rescued more than 430 migrants who were stranded at sea and brought them ashore to safety Wednesday, the latest victims of a humanitarian crisis confronting Southeast Asia. Hoping to find a solution, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia held an emergency meeting to address the plight of the migrants who are fleeing persecution in Myanmar and poverty in Bangladesh.
The migrants were rescued early Wednesday by more than a dozen fishermen’s boats, said Herman Sulaiman, from East Aceh district’s Search and Rescue Agency.
It was unclear if the migrants were on one boat or had come from several, but an initial batch of 102 people were the first brought to shore in the village of Simpang Tiga in Indonesia’s eastern Aceh province, Sulaiman and other rescuers said.
“They were suffering from dehydration, they are weak and starving,” Khairul Nove, head of Langsa Search and Rescue Agency in Aceh province. Among the 102 passengers were 26 women and 31 children, he said.
One of the migrants, Ubaydul Haque, 30, said the ship’s engine had failed and the captain fled, and that they were at sea for four months before Indonesian fishermen found them.
“We ran out of food, we wanted to enter Malaysia but we were not allowed,” he said.
One of the fishermen who led the rescue was 40-year-old Razali Puteh. He said he spotted a green wooden trawler crammed with people who were screaming, waving their hands and clothes at him to get his attention.
As he neared the trawler, people aboard began jumping into the water, trying to reach his boat. He said he asked them to stay on their boat, which apparently had no motor, and promised to return with help. He then returned with other fishing boats and brought the migrants to shore.
The rescue after Indonesia’s foreign minister said late Tuesday that the country had “given more than it should” to help hundreds of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants stranded on boats by human traffickers.
The foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, was meeting Wednesday with his counterparts from Malaysia and Thailand in an emergency meeting called to discuss how to solve the migrant problem. Representatives from the U.N. refugee agency and the International Office for Migration were also expected to attend the meeting.
“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,” Marsudi told reporters after a Cabinet meeting at the presidential palace.
Marsudi said Indonesia has sheltered 1,346 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants who washed onto Aceh and North Sumatra provinces last week. The first batch came on May 10 with 558 people on a boat, and the second with 807 on three boats landed on Friday. Even before the crisis, nearly 12,000 migrants were being sheltered in Indonesia awaiting resettlement, she said, with most of those Rohingya Muslims who have fled persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. No more than 500 of those migrants are resettled in third countries each year, she said.
“Indonesia has given more than it should do as a non-member-state of the Refugee Convention of 1951,” she said.
The crisis emerged this month as governments in the region began cracking down on human trafficking. Some captains of trafficking boats abandoned their vessels — and hundreds of migrants — at sea. About 3,000 of the migrants have reached land in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, but all three countries have pushed some ships away. Aid groups estimate that thousands more migrants — who fled persecution in Myanmar and poverty in Bangladesh — are stranded in the Andaman Sea.
Myanmar’s cooperation is seen as vital to solving the crisis, but its government has already cast doubt on whether it will attend a conference to be hosted by Thailand on May 29 that is to include 15 Asian nations affected by the emergency.
Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta contributed to this report.
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