PUTRAJAYA - Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed to allow the 7,000 migrants stuck on boats near the two countries to come ashore - but with strict conditions.
The international community has to resettle or repatriate the Rohingyas and Bangladeshis within a year of them being given shelter and the offer is only for those now in the waters off the two countries. It is not on open-ended offer which may encourage more such boat people to make their way here.
The two countries are now looking for locations to set up the temporary shelters and construction work should start immediately, said Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman.
"Each country is considering a location and we have to study this thoroughly.
"We are willing to take them onto our shores because the conditions that they are in are totally unacceptable ... they have been at sea a long time," he said. "We can't leave them at sea."
Anifah was speaking to the media after a four-hour meeting at Wisma Putra yesterday.
The meeting was with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi and Thailand's General (Rtd) Tanasak Patimapragorn over the plight of the migrants.
Prior to the press conference, Anifah read out a joint statement issued by the ministers.
He shared the stage with Retno but Tanasak, who is also Thai Deputy Prime Minister, had to leave early to attend to urgent matters in his country. Retno left after Anifah finished reading the statement.
Asked at the press conference why Thailand did not also offer temporary shelter to the migrants, Anifah said it was due to that nation's laws and some constraints.
"They are unable to take them in just yet because they need to go through a process but they will provide whatever humanitarian assistance is needed.
"Therefore, Malaysia and Indonesia will have to accept the responsibility.
"Malaysia and Indonesia cannot wait any longer because our priority is to save them. We cannot leave them in the sea," he said.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was quoted as saying in Bangkok that the problem remains as to where the migrants will be placed, and he wants to discuss it at a regional meeting next week.
The shelters for the migrants will be administered by a joint task force that will be established by the three countries, according to Anifah. Until the shelters are ready, aid will be delivered to the waiting boats.
Pressed for the location of the Malaysian shelter, he ruled out Pulau Langkawi as a possibility.
"The migrants are not here for a holiday," he said.
"We will find a suitable place and in the meantime they will be provided with the necessary assistance. We have been sending supplies to them."
On the offer of temporary shelter being only for the boat people already here, Anifah said all three countries were firm on that.
"We are aware that there are others who also want to come here.
"Under no circumstances will we take in any others than those already at sea (here)," he said.
In the joint statement, the ministers called on the international community to uphold its responsibility and to urgently share the burden by providing support to Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand in addressing the problem.
The support should include financial assistance to enable the countries to provide temporary shelter and humanitarian assistance to the migrants, they said.
The ministers also asked that the root causes and other contributory factors to the recent influx of the migrants be identified immediately and addressed by the parties concerned.
"Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand remain prepared to continue to assist and work in a constructive manner with the parties concerned."
The ministers also condemned people smuggling and human trafficking, and expressed their governments' determination to continue to bring the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to justice.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has instructed both the Royal Malaysian Navy and Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency to assist Mercy Malaysia to deliver humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya migrants.
"It is basic human compassion that we ensure the hungry will be given food and water while the sick will be attended to," he said.