For hundreds of migrants stranded at sea in sinking boats, the first helping hand came not from governments but from fishermen who towed them to safety. The desperation of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh has not compelled neighboring countries to take them in, but has inspired compassion — and pleas for help — from ordinary people across Southeast Asia.
Sympathetic Malaysians have launched donation drives to help feed migrants who have flooded ashore in the past two weeks. In Indonesia, where fishermen rescued three boats last week and saved 900 lives, villagers have donated clothing and home-cooked meals.
Aid groups estimate that thousands more migrants, who fled persecution and poverty in Myanmar and Bangladesh, are stranded in the Andaman Sea after a crackdown on human traffickers prompted captains and smugglers to abandon their boats.
But more than two weeks into the humanitarian crisis, the stance of Southeast Asian governments remains unchanged — none wants to take the migrants in, fearing that accepting a few would result in an unstoppable flow.
A political cartoon in Thailand’s The Nation newspaper on Monday summed up the official reaction, showing a boatload of Muslim Rohingya refugees being kicked back to sea by people on the shores of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar and Bangladesh.