Indonesian government tells fisherman not to pick up drowning migrants

The crisis in the Mediterranean Sea with Libyan refugees has dropped out of the news lately, as the EU has mounted a serious effort to save the lives of North Africans fleeing the violence while also cracking down on smugglers.

But a world away in the waters off of Indonesia, there is another crisis involving boat people. These are Muslim refugees from Myanmar, escaping persecution and violence, as well as Bangledeshis fleeing poverty and hopelessness.

But the nations of Southeast Asia have taken a decidedly different approach to the problem of refugees than the EU.


Fishermen in Indonesia's Aceh province say they have been told by officials not to rescue migrants from boats off the coast, even if they are drowning.

At least 700 Bangladeshis and Rohingyas from Myanmar were rescued off Aceh last week by locals, bringing the numbers in camps there to at least 1,500.

An army official said it would be illegal for any more of the migrants to come to shore.

All countries in the region have closed their borders to the migrants.

Thousands of people - mostly Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution and poverty in Myanmar, but also Bangladeshis looking for work - are thought to be stranded out at sea.

Aid agencies say people on board the boats are severely malnourished, and should be offered immediate assistance. Survivors who have made it to shore say there have been deadly fights on board over food.

It is hard to imagine any governments taking a more hard-hearted stance than those in Southeast Asia towards the migrant boats off their coasts.

Malaysia has blockaded its north-western sea border to stop them entering. Thailand has hurriedly repaired boats' engines and shooed them over its border, despite near starvation and illness on board. Now fishermen in Indonesia say they have been ordered not to pick up anyone, even if they are drowning. Why? They certainly fear a deluge of migrants if they open the floodgates.

They blame Myanmar for causing this crisis through its terrible treatment of Rohingyas. Myanmar refuses to accept responsibility.

But arguing over who is responsible for these migrants should not be the issue right now. Saving lives should be

Is this really a "hard hearted" policy? The Indonesian government has authorized the fishermen to deliver food, water, and medicine to the boats while also allowing them to make necessary repairs.

They are disallowing the refugees from coming ashore. They don't have the facilities, the supplies, or the money to take care of the vast numbers of migrants who would flood their country if they opened their borders. 

Little international aid has been forthcoming, so you have to ask, what is it that the world expects of these third world countries when faced with this impossible dilemma?  The UN made a big show of criticizing the EU for allowing the Libyan refugee crisis, but no one at UN headquarters is showing much interest in the refugees and Myanmar.

Double standards and hypocrisy among international aid groups is about what we've come to expect.