Refugee agency lauds South-East Asia sea rescue plan

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The South-East Asian countries said they would continue to help the 7000 people off their shores.Photo: UNHCR/S. H. Omi

A commitment by South-East Asian states to address the plight of thousands of people stranded in boats off their coastline has been welcomed by the UN refugee agency.

UNHCR's statement on Wednesday follows an announcement by the foreign ministers of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand that their countries will "continue to provide humanitarian assistance" to 7,000 refugees and migrants floating off their shores.

Daniel Johnson reports.

After meeting in Malaysia, the ministers issued a joint declaration acknowledging the "dire humanitarian circumstances of the crisis" and their "deep concern" for the plight of "irregular migrants including those on the high seas, and in particular women and children".

They said that those rescued will be offered "temporary shelter", with the proviso that the "resettlement and repatriation process is done "in one year by the international community".

The development comes after humanitarian agencies highlighted the plight of the migrants who've been abandoned at sea by smugglers.

Believed to be mainly Bangladeshi nationals and Rohingya muslims from Myanmar, the boat passengers reportedly went days without water or food.

The UN agency described the joint ministerial initiative as "an important initial step in the search for solutions" to this issue and "vital" for saving lives.

But it said people needed to be brought ashore and given medical help "without delay", while "further action" will be needed.

UNHCR said this includes addressing why the migrants left their homes in the first place and working with countries "to find solutions to the plight of these people", possibly repatriation.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations

Duration: 1'05"


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