A MISSING boat filled with hundreds of starving men, women and children has been found off the coast of Indonesia.

Filled with desperate Rohingya migrants, the vessel vanished days ago after being repeatedly refused sanctuary by Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

The rickety boat stuffed full of people pleading for help was first spotted last week by aid workers and journalists but went missing after being turned away by the Thai authorities.

Contact was lost with the boat on Saturday prompting fears that it had sunk but it was found yesterday by Indonesian fishermen who brought over 400 migrants ashore.

“Their condition is very weak. Many are sick, they told me that some of their friends died from starvation,” said Teuku Nyak Idrus, a fishermen involved in the rescue.

Chris Lewa, from the Arakan Project, which monitors migrant journeys across the Bay of Bengal, said: “They were totally exhausted.

“They said they had been taken out of Thai waters three times; we previously thought they had only been towed out twice by the Thais.

“But they said the worst were the Malaysians who pushed them out twice.

“They said the second time the Malaysians came with guns and said they’d shoot at the boat if they came back again.

“They said the Malaysians then shadowed the boat all the way to Indonesia.”


WHILE there is relief for the rescued migrants there are thousands more Rohingya and Bangladeshis still adrift in the Andaman Sea with governments in the region accused of playing “human ping pong” with them.

Aid workers say there is a humanitarian crisis because of the determination of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia to prevent any of the boats sailing into their waters.

It is estimated that around 8,000 people are currently languishing on the vessels adrift in the area.

“Governments in the region are playing human ping-pong, pushing boats back out to sea while claiming to crackdown on human trafficking,” said Matthew Smith of Fortify Rights, a non-profit human rights organisation based in Southeast Asia.

“All governments have a responsibility to protect survivors of trafficking and asylum seekers. No government can credibly claim to be combating trafficking while simultaneously creating a ready pool of desperate and insecure people at sea.”

Many of the migrants are Rohingya, fleeing Myanmar where they have been persecuted for decades and are not considered citizens.

A Muslim ethnic group – most Rohingya live in Rakhine State, the second poorest in Myanmar – already one of the poorest countries in the world.

The Rohingya claim to be descended from Arab traders who settled in the region hundreds of years ago but he Myanmar government insists they are actually Bengali migrants and not a proper ethnic group.

According to the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, Myanmar governments first started to bring in policies of repression in the Seventies and this has intensified in recent years.

The UN has said more than 120,000 Rohingya have tried to flee abroad by boat over the last few years. Initially people smugglers took them by sea to Thailand, then by overland routes to Malaysia until Thailand cracked down and started turning the boats back.

Abandoned by the people smugglers, the boats have been left to drift at sea with both Malaysia and Indonesia ordering their navies to repel the boats.

The Indonesian government has also told its fishermen to stop rescuing the starving, thirsty occupants.


AN attempt to resolve the crisis is now being made by the Indonesian, Malaysian and Thai governments but Myanmar is refusing to join any meetings concerning the Rohingya.

A small breakthrough was made yesterday when Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to give temporary shelter to the migrants although this was on condition that “the resettlement and repatriation process will be done in one year by the international community”.

“I urge all NGOs, of all races and religions to step forward to volunteer to help these Rohingya migrants,” said Malaysia’s home minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

“Even though they are a migrant community that is trying to enter the country illegally, and breaking immigration laws, their wellbeing should not be ignored.”

Thailand however issued an equivocal statement saying that humanitarian assistance would be given to those stranded in boats but not shelter as the migrants were not escaping conflict or violence.

Around 3,000 people have been rescued or swum to shore over the past 10 days and Myanmar is under international pressure to improve conditions for the Rohingya to stem the outflow.

The Pope likened their plight to that of ethnic Yazidi and Christians terrorised by Islamic State in Syria.

“We think of the poor Rohingya of Myanmar. As they leave their land to escape persecution they do not know what will happen to them,” said Pope Francis.

In Bangladesh another 200,000 are living in squalid conditions in refugee camps although some migrants have been sent back to Myanmar.

Recently the Rohingya have been joined on the boats by Bangladeshis hoping to escape the poverty of their country.

“They are coming from all parts of Bangladesh.

“With the help of human traffickers, they have been attempting to go to Malaysia to find jobs,” said Lt Col Zahid Hassan of the Border Guard Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi authorities insist they are using all their powers to prevent the migrants leaving their coastline.

A regional conference is being held in Thailand on May 29 when the issue will be at the forefront of the agenda.