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Thousands Of Migrants Are Stranded At Sea Near Malaysia Because No One Will Take Them In

Most of the migrants are Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar, where the government does not recognize members of this ethnic minority as citizens.

Posted on May 14, 2015, at 9:01 a.m. ET

As many as 8,000 Asian migrants are reportedly stranded at sea near Malaysia because no one will take them in, with countries in the region pushing the boats back from their waters this week.

Migrants sleep on the floor at a sports stadium turned into a temporary shelter in Indonesia on May 12.
S. Yulinnas / AP

Migrants sleep on the floor at a sports stadium turned into a temporary shelter in Indonesia on May 12.

Malaysia has turned away two boats containing 800 migrants, the Associated Press reported on Thursday, and Indonesia and Thailand have likewise reportedly turned away boats in recent days. There are as many as 8,000 people currently stranded at sea, according to Human Rights Watch. Some media reports, including this one from Al Jazeera, put the figure at 6,000.

A reporter for Thailand's Channel 3 posted this video report showing one of the stranded boats on Thursday night. It wasn't immediately clear when the report was filmed.

ข่าว 3 มิติ คืนนี้ พบเรือชาวโรฮิงญา ต้องช่วยเหลือด่วน มีเด็กเล็ก ผู้หญิง ผู้ชาย 450 คน มีคนป่วย

The people on the boats are mostly Rohingyas, a persecuted ethnic minority in Myanmar who aren't recognized as full citizens by their government.

A Myanmar Rohingya refugee in Malaysia at a protest in the capital Kuala Lumpur in March.
Vincent Thian / AP

A Myanmar Rohingya refugee in Malaysia at a protest in the capital Kuala Lumpur in March.

In the first three months of this year, 25,000 Rohingyas and Bangladeshis are estimated to have boarded smugglers' boats in the Bay of Bengal, roughly double the number in the same period last year, according to a briefing last week by the U.N.'s refugee agency.

The boats are stuck in and around the Malacca Strait, between Malaysia and Indonesia. While a number of push-backs have been reported this week, some boats have been there for up to two months, AP reported.

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The traditional route for Myanmar's Rohingya asylum seekers is to head for neighboring Thailand, where people smugglers hold them in camps in the jungle or in boats offshore until they or their relatives can raise a fee to sail onwards to Malaysia. Thailand has recently cracked down on smugglers following criticism from the U.S., Reuters reported.

Many people on the boats are running out of food and water, the UN's refugee agency has said. Ten people on one boat have died, the BBC reported on Thursday.

A migrant who arrived in Indonesia by boat this week receives a bottle of water from a local resident on May 13.
Roni Bintang / Reuters

A migrant who arrived in Indonesia by boat this week receives a bottle of water from a local resident on May 13.

Myanmar's Rohingyas are Muslims in a Buddhist-majority country. The boats also contain people from Bangladesh – some of them are also Rohingyas, while a smaller chunk are Bangladeshi economic migrants.

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