Asia boat migrants: Asean media troubled over treatment

papers on Rohingya crisis Image copyright Getty Images/BBC
Image caption Rohingya crisis dominated the headlines

Media in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand - the countries desperately trying to stop the influx of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh - are at the same time concerned at their plight, with some criticising their governments' intransigence on the crisis.

In Malaysia, the current chair of the regional Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean), the issue is covered prominently in the press and the hashtag #rohingya is trending on Twitter.

Several commentators urge the government to provide immediate humanitarian relief instead of dithering over a political solution.

"Your ancestors came to Malaya on a boat too. You Bugis, Minangkabau, Javanese, Hadhrami. You sons and daughters of Mysore, Ceylon, Kerala, Punjab, Sindh. You who are Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew, Hakka, Foochow. That's your great-grandfather out there, a little boy silent with thirst, burning under the sea-sky," playwright Huzir Sulaiman posted on his Facebook page.

But many are echoing the government line, warning that Malaysia should be cautious about the message it sends.

"At the moment it is as if our country has been 'attacked' with the presence of more than 1-2,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi illegal immigrants," the Malay-language Utusan Online complains.

"If we are seen to be soft and seemingly ready to accommodate them, our shores will soon be filled with them," columnist Wong Chun Wai forecasts in the popular English tabloid The Star.

'Test' for Asean

But in Indonesia, the Islamist website contrasts the Indonesian navy's actions in turning away migrant boats with the kindness of Acehnese fishermen who have rescued migrants.

Former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono tells the Indonesian daily Tempo that the "tragedy is a test for Asean and other relevant countries, including the United Nations agencies to seek appropriate and immediate solutions".

He adds that it would be unfair if the Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand alone were blamed. "Myanmar and Bangladesh cannot wash their hands of this," he says.

The English-language Jakarta Globe, however, disagrees, saying that as long as these three countries "continue to remain silent on the Myanmar government's systematic discrimination against the Rohingya... then Asean must shoulder a portion of the blame for the suffering that these people continue to experience".

In the Thai press, the mood is somewhat different. The second-largest newspaper Daily News sees a challenge for the Thai junta leader, saying "For Gen. Prayut, it now seems that the path ahead is no longer strewn with roses… the human trafficking issue will be a key factor for certain superpowers to pressure Thailand through trade measures."

An opinion piece by JC Wilcox in English-language daily The Nation is defiant about refusing entry to the migrants, pointing out that other countries are also rejecting boat people. "The UK is officially refusing to accept further migrants from Islamic countries. Australia is resisting criticism from rights organisations in rejecting illegal immigration", the writer says.

But the daily also carries a cartoon showing a boatload of Rohingyas being kicked away from the shores of Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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