Hundreds rescued off Aceh coast in boat-people crisis
Jakarta (AsiaNews / Agencies) - This morning some Indonesian fishermen rescued several boats laden with migrants off the coast of Aceh, at the western end of the archipelago; on board the boats were at least 426 people, many of them hungry and in critical condition because of weeks spent offshore, waiting to find a place to land.
One of these boats had been sighted on May 14, drifting aimlessly after engine failure; it then went missing, until this morning when the rescue took place. Occupants report that on three different occasions they were driven offshore by the Thai and Malaysian coastguard.
Local sources report that the majority of boat people rescued today come from Myanmar and, probably, belong to the Rohingya minority, persecuted at home and deprived of the right of citizenship. A fisherman engaged in rescue operations reports that "their condition is very weak", many of these "are sick" and "some of their friends have died of hunger" during the trip.
Among those saved today in the Straits of Moluccas were also 26 women and 30 children.
Over the past 10 days, more than 3 thousand people, mostly from the former Burma, along with migrant workers from Bangladesh, have been rescued in the Andaman Sea and off the coast of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. The crisis deepened with the crackdown imposed by Thailand – the real hub for human trafficking - after the discovery of a mass grave near the border with Malaysia in which dozens of Rohingya corpses were buried. But it reached breaking point following the push back policy adopted by Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur
Meanwhile, today, for the first time, Myanmar authorities have said they are open to finding a common political solution to resolve the Rohingya crisis, which from a domestic ethnic problem has developed into a regional emergency in South-East Asia. According to state newspapers the Burmese government "shares the concerns" of the international community regarding the humanitarian emergency that is unfolding and is "ready to provide humanitarian assistance to anyone in difficulty in the seas". This is the first and, to date, most extensive comment by the Naypyidaw government on the issue, given that it considers the Rohingya illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh and has always refused to grant them citizenship and rights.
It should be noted, however, that this change in tone coincides with the emergency summit convoked for today in Kuala Lumpur, of the Foreign Ministers of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. It was during this meeting that a further (partial) step forward was made by Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, who said they are now willing to "provide temporary shelter" to migrants, pending a permanent solution.
Yesterday, the Philippine government offered to collaborate with other governments in the region, saying it was ready to accept at least 3 thousand boat people. Also yesterday at Mass in Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis called attention to the drama of the Rohingyas, as well as the Christians and Yazidis of Iraq and Syria who are forced to abandon their homes because of violence and conflict. For this very reason, Card. Antonio Maria Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, pointed out that the only way to resolve the crisis is to invest in poor countries and ensure their proper development.