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The Latest on Rohingya: Australia won’t take in migrants

Rescued migrants weep upon arrival in Simpang Tiga, Aceh province, Indonesia, Wednesday, May 20, 2015. Hundreds of migrants stranded at sea for months were rescued and taken to Indonesia, officials said Wednesday, the latest in a stream of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants to reach shore in a growing crisis confronting Southeast Asia. (AP Photo/Binsar Bakkara)

2:20 p.m. (0420 GMT)

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has ruled out Australia resettling any Rohingya refugees, warning that asylum seekers who take to boats must not be rewarded with a new life in a Western country.

“Nope, nope, nope,” Abbott told reporters Thursday when asked if Australia would resettle any of the thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar and Bangladeshis landing on shores of Southeast Asian countries.

“We are not going to do anything that will encourage people to get on boats. If we do the slightest thing to encourage people to get on the boats, this problem will get worse, not better,” he added.

Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention and is one of the world’s most generous countries on a per capita basis in taking in refugees, resettling 13,750 a year. But it refuses to accept asylum seekers who attempt to reach its shores by boat.

“Our role is to do everything we humanly can to stop people smuggling and the best way to do that is to make it absolutely crystal clear that if you get on a leaky boat, you aren’t going to get what you want, which is a new life in a Western country,” Abbott said.

— Rod McGuirk, Canberra, Australia

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10:30 a.m. (0330 GMT)

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak says he has ordered the navy and the coast guard to conduct search and rescue operations for boats carrying Rohingya migrants stranded at sea.

“We have to prevent loss of life,” Najib said in a tweet.

Malaysia and Indonesia agreed on Wednesday to provide temporary refuge to thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar, while Thailand said it will provide humanitarian assistance and won’t turn away boats who wish to enter its waters.

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10 a.m. (0300 GMT)

The Thai government has denied an account given by a Rohingya migrant on a boat arriving in Aceh that the Thai navy threatened to shoot their boat if they wouldn’t leave the Thai waters.

Deputy government spokesman Maj. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd says the Thai government has a clear policy against using any means of violence and adhering to the humanitarian principles in helping the migrants.

He told reporters Thursday they have checked with every officer who was involved in the operation to help the migrants on the boat on the night of May 14, and all of them insisted that they did not use guns to threaten the migrants.

Sansern said that when the boat was found, authorities talked to those aboard and all of them said they wanted to continue their journey without landing in Thailand, and asked for food and water.

“The government and the navy would like to categorically deny these baseless reports,” he said. “The truth is not only that the Thai navy had given them food and drinking water according to the humanitarian principles, but also they had repaired the boat’s engine as they requested. It took until 3 o’clock to finish the operation that night.”

Sansern said that if any other boats are found outside of the Thai waters, Thai authorities will provide humanitarian assistance, such as food and water. If they want to enter the Thai waters, they will be treated as migrants who enter illegally.

— Thanyarat Doksone, Bangkok

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1:30 p.m. (1330 GMT)

Gambia’s government says it is willing to resettle Muslim Rohingya migrants stranded at sea after fleeing predominantly Buddhist Myanmar.

“As human beings, more so fellow Muslims, it is sacred duty to help alleviate the untold hardships and sufferings these fellow human beings are confronted with,” the presidency said in a statement late Tuesday.

Gambia called on “all countries with a conscience to assist in bringing the Rohingya to The Gambia for resettlement.”

Yahya Jammeh, the president of the tiny West African nation, has been accused of violently cracking down on his political opponents. He also has threatened to decapitate gays and lesbians who live there.

— Abdoulie John, Dakar, Senegal

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5:20 p.m. (1020 GMT)

While Indonesia and Malaysia have agreed to take in the Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants stranded at sea, Thailand has not committed to providing them with refuge.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, who hosted the meeting Wednesday with counterparts from Indonesia and Thailand, says due to domestic law and some constraints, Thailand will not be able to take in the refugees just yet. Thailand will provide humanitarian assistance.

Speaking in Bangkok, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha says the problem remains where to place the Rohingya, and he wants to discuss it at a regional meeting next week.

Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch says it is disturbing that Thailand is missing in action. He says he hopes Thailand’s leadership will urgently revamp its stance and join with Indonesia and Malaysia to save the migrants.

— Thanyarat Doksone, Bangkok

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12 p.m. (1000 GMT)

The U.N. refugee agency says that with the agreement in place to accept migrants stranded at sea, it is now urgent for them to be brought ashore without delay.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says in a statement that immediate first aid and other care need to be provided “without delay.”

It says it agrees with the foreign ministers of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand that issues addressing root causes of the crisis also need addressing, and that it stands ready to work with countries in the region to find solutions to the plight of the migrants.

The agency says these ultimately may include returning people to their home countries voluntarily and once conditions allow.

— Frank Jordans, Berlin

___ 4:30 p.m. (0930 GMT)

Myanmar is likely to attend a regional meeting next week on addressing the crisis involving thousands of minority Muslims fleeing the Southeast Asian nation by boat.

The Myanmar government was initially reluctant to send a representative to the May 29 meeting in neighboring Thailand. Last week, Maj. Zaw Htay, director of the office of Myanmar’s president, says his government will not accept that it is the source of the problem.

Thailand’s Deputy Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai confirmed Wednesday that Myanmar has accepted the invitation.

Myanmar’s Deputy Foreign Minister Thant Kyaw told reporters that “we all have to sit down and we all have to consider how to tackle this problem.”

For decades, the minority Muslim Rohingya have suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination in majority-Buddhist Myanmar. Denied citizenship by national law, they are effectively stateless.

In the last three years, attacks on Rohingya have left hundreds dead and sparked an exodus of an estimated 120,000 people who have boarded human traffickers’ boats to flee to other countries.

— Thanyarat Doksone, Bangkok

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4 p.m. (0900 GMT)

The International Organization for Migration is welcoming the decision by Malaysia and Indonesia to accept the boat people fleeing Myanmar and Bangladesh.

However, the agency’s spokesman Joe Lowry says there is still no agreement on search and rescue and the boats have got to be found.

He says: “There’s a huge body of water and only a small number of boats, and the more time goes on without good search and rescue, the more desperate their conditions are going to become.”

He says the crisis involving possibly thousands of migrants still stranded at sea after fleeing persecution in Myanmar and poverty in Bangladesh is a regional and global phenomenon, not just between one or two countries.

— Kiko Rosario, Bangkok

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2:45 p.m. (0745 GMT)

Migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh who were rescued by Indonesian fishermen after being stranded at sea for months say all they wanted was to go to a Muslim country.

“We went on the boat to look for a Muslim country, either Malaysia or Indonesia,” Asranal Ali from Myanmar tells The Associated Press. “But it doesn’t matter what country as long it’s a Muslim country.”

Another Rohingya Muslim from Myanmar, Hasan Ali, says they were forced to leave by Buddhists. “We could not reject. Otherwise, we were beaten.”

Once they were at high sea, “the captain and his companions escaped with a lifeboat.”

Hundreds of the minority Muslim Rohingya have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state since 2012, when thousands of others began fleeing abroad in search of a better life.

Most want to go majority-Muslim countries in Southeast Asia, and on Wednesday, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to take them in after weeks of turning their boats away.

— Fadlan Syam, Aceh, Indonesia

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2 p.m. (0700 GMT)

A spokesman for the International Organization for Migration says the rescue of refugees stranded at sea “isn’t happening fast enough.”

Joe Lowry told The Associated Press that the migrants — Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar and Bangladeshis escaping poverty — “are in grave peril of losing their lives.”

Lowry says they need to be found and brought onshore first, then we can look into the long-term implications, including where they can go — back home, a third country or stay where they are.

“But unless we get them onshore and save their lives, there will be no long term for these people,” he says.

Lowry admits it’s a difficult task because they are on small boats and there are thousands of other fishing boats in the same sea, looking the same.

He says the migrants could be suffering from severe malnutrition, dehydration, diseases like beri-beri, and they’ll need urgent medical attention, rehydration, food and medical care.

— Kiko Rosario, Bangkok

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1:30 p.m. (0630 GMT)

Sirajul Islam, a Rohingya who was among several hundred migrants brought to shore in Indonesia, says their ship was earlier chased away by the Thai navy after being provided with food and drinks.

The 23-year-old also says he saw for himself “how 10 of us, including women and children, died of starvation” while being stranded on the boat for months.

He says that the Thai navy, after giving them provisions, pushed the boat away “within 10 minutes, otherwise they would shoot our ship.”

The Thai navy said earlier it has been providing help to the migrants, but that most of them did not want to land in Thailand and insisted on going to Malaysia.

Razali Puteh, the fisherman who first spotted the migrants, said he and others were fishing about 37 miles (60 kilometers) off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh province when they saw the overcrowded trawler about 2 miles (3 kilometers) away.

“When coming close, I was very surprised with what I saw on the boat,” he said. “It was crammed with people … I was speechless and breaking down into tears when watching them screaming, waving hands and cloth.”

He says: “I could not have let them die, because they are also human beings, just like me. I am grateful to be able to save hundreds of lives.”

— Fakhrurradzie Gade, Aceh, Indonesia

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2:15 p.m. (0615 GMT)

The foreign ministers of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand have promised to take necessary action against human traffickers who have been driving the exodus of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslims.

According to a joint statement after talks in Malaysia on Wednesday, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman says the three Southeast Asian nations will take steps to bring the perpetrators of such heinous crime to justice.

Thailand has already arrested several police and local officials after authorities uncovered jungle camps where the trafficked Rohingya had been held until their families agreed to pay ransom for their release.

— Eileen Ng, Putrajaya, Malaysia

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1:45 p.m. (0545 GMT)

After weeks of turning away boats with migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia have agreed to provide them with temporary shelter.

The announcement was made Wednesday by Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman after a meeting with his counterparts from Indonesia and Thailand to address the plight of the migrants.

Most of them are the long-persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar and others are Bangladeshis fleeing poverty.

Anifah told reporters that the two countries agreed to give the estimated 7,000 migrants stranded at sea temporary shelter “provided that the resettlement and repatriation process will be done in one year by the international community.”

A few thousand migrants have already made it to shore in Indonesia’s Aceh province and Malaysia’s Langkawi island.

— Eileen Ng, Putrajaya, Malaysia

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