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Malaysian prime minister orders rescue operations to save migrants at sea

Malaysia's prime minister has tasked the navy and coastguard with search and rescue missions to save migrants at sea. The USA, Philippines and Gambia have offered to resettle Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants.

In a shift from earlier practices of accepting refugees only who reach the shore or providing assistance to ships found while still at sea, Malaysia's navy and coastguard have been ordered to conduct search and rescue operations for boats carrying migrants from Myanmar, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced on Thursday.

"We have to prevent the loss of life," the prime minister said on social media.

A senior official in the Malaysian navy told the DPA news agency that instructions were given to coordinate operations with Medical Relief Society Malaysia in order to provide aid to the Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants.

"Our assets are on the lookout for possible boats carrying migrants, and they are ready to assist them and bring them to our shores," the official told DPA.

Reluctant commitment

The announcement comes a day after Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman met with his Indonesian and Thai counterpart to discuss solutions.

Anifah and Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi announced that their countries would accept and care for boatpeople temporarily, until they are resettled or repatriated with the help of international agencies.

Thai Foreign Minister Thanasak Patimaprakorn did not commit to the offer, but the foreign minister added that it would not "push back migrants stranded in Thai waters," AFP news agency reported.

Anifah added that an estimated 7,000 people were still at sea, according to Malaysian intelligence.

Resettling migrants

The United States, Philippines, and Gambia offered to provide assistance along with resettling migrants.

"The US stands ready to help countries of the region bear the burden and save lives today," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in Washington.

Gambia's presidency called on "countries with a conscience" to assist in the resettlement of Rohingya in the West African country.

"As human beings, more so fellow Muslims, it is sacred duty to help alleviate the untold hardships and sufferings these fellow human beings are confronted with," the presidency said on Tuesday.

ls/sms (AFP, AP, dpa)

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