Push boat people back: Malaysia
February 28, 2009 , smh
CHA-AM, Thailand: The Malaysian Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, has called for Burma's Muslim boat people to be pushed back if they attempt to land on any South-East Asian shores in search of asylum.
Mr Abdullah also criticised Burma and Thailand on the issue of the Rohingya asylum seekers, which has escalated into a problem for the region and sparked international concern. Thousands of the stateless Rohingya have fled Burma as well as refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Their plight was highlighted recently when hundreds were believed to have drowned after being pushed out to sea by the Thai military.
"If we cannot be firm we cannot deal with this problem. We have to be firm at all borders. We have to turn them back," Mr Abdullah said in an interview with the Bangkok Post. Mr Abdullah was due to arrive at the beachside resort of Cha-am yesterday for the annual summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations.
Thailand wants a regional conference on the Rohingya, who often try to land in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. "We feel that they are being pushed onto us instead of Thailand accommodating them somehow," Mr Abdullah said. "Of course, we know they come from Myanmar [Burma]. When we ask Myanmar, they ask: 'Are you sure they are our people? What evidence have you got?' "
The Rohingyas, an ethnic minority not recognised by Burma's military government, number about 800,000 in that country. Hundreds of thousands have fled to Bangladesh, Malaysia and the Middle East.
"From Thailand they come to us, from us they go to Indonesia. We don't want to be unkind. But the problem has been about people who come to us without permits," Mr Abdullah said.
Human rights groups have criticised Thailand for allegedly abusing Rohingya boat people by towing them out to sea without adequate provisions or fuel. Thailand denies the allegations.