BANGKOK - Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia will continue to push boats holding thousands of migrants back to sea, a senior Thai official said yesterday, despite a United Nations (UN) appeal for a rapid rescue operation to avoid a humanitarian crisis.
Several thousand migrants, many of them hungry and sick, are adrift in South-east Asian seas in boats that have been abandoned by smugglers following a Thai government crackdown on human trafficking, the UN has said.
"Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand have decided not to receive boat people, as far as I am aware," Major-General Werachon Sukhondhapatipak, spokesman for Thailand's ruling junta, told Reuters.
He declined to comment on the UN refugee agency's appeal for an international search-and-rescue operation to rescue the thousands stranded out at sea between Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Malaysia - where more than 1,100 migrants came ashore this week - said it would turn away boats entering its waters unless they were about to sink.
"The policy has always been to escort them out of Malaysian waters after giving them the necessary provisions", including fuel, water and food, a Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency spokesman told Agence France-Presse.
The Indonesian navy has already turned away at least one vessel packed with hundreds of abandoned migrants.
The issue would be discussed at a meeting of 15 countries, to be held in Bangkok on May 29, Major-Gen Werachon said.
In Thailand, the authorities are enforcing a long-held policy to push boats back. The policy involves offering food, water, fuel and medical assistance to migrant boats, but preventing them from landing.