Malaysia has joined Indonesia in vowing to turn back vessels ferrying a wave of migrants to south-east Asian shores, days after hundreds of hungry and weak migrants were rescued from its waters. The announcement came despite a United Nations appeal for a rapid rescue operation to avoid a humanitarian crisis.
About 2,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and impoverished Bangladeshi migrants were rescued off the coasts of Indonesia and Malaysia earlier this week, amidst growing concern of people-smuggler ships at sea.The rickety boats appear to have been bound for Thailand, where the discovery of mass migrant graves in “slave camps” has prompted the government to crack down on human trafficking.
A silent war continues to rage in the remote southern regions of Thailand. Thailand is an overwhelmingly Buddhist country (representing about 94 percent of the population, according to the CIA/World Factbook), but Muslims dominate the three provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat (plus parts of Satun and Songkhla) in the “Deep South” of the country along the Malaysian border. The three main aforementioned provinces belonged to a Malay Muslim sultanate before Thailand (then called Siam) annexed the region in 1909.
Now, more than a century later, Muslim rebel groups in the region, particularly the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (the National Revolutionary Front), continue to reject the authority of the central government 650 miles to the north in Bangkok and have periodically staged attacks in an insurgency against symbols of the Thai state, including even schoolteachers. As in Myanmar (Burma), this is a war that usually pits minority Muslims against majority Buddhists.
Meanwhile, back in Muslim-majority Malaysia:
Malaysia said it would turn away boats entering its waters, except if they were in imminent danger of sinking. “The policy has always been to escort them out of Malaysian waters after giving them the necessary provisions” including fuel, water and food, First Admiral Tan Kok Kwee of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency said. The Indonesian navy confirmed it had turned around a boat carrying about 400 people, after providing it with fuel and food.
Europe could learn from them.