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US State Dept pledges aid for countries housing stranded Rohingya

The US has announced its intentions to assist Indonesia and Malaysia in implementing their program to shelter Rohingya refugees. A US delegation is also set for talks with Myanmar, the country the boatpeople are fleeing.

The US Department of State pledged on Wednesday to help Southeast Asian countries "bear the burden" of sheltering thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants, as thousands of refugees are stranded at sea after fleeing persecution at home in Myanmar.

More than 3,000 refugees

have come ashore in Indonesia and Malaysia

this month alone.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that the US would consider requests "for additional funds to assist governments to establish things like reception centers and ensure protection screening procedures." She also said that Washington was "prepared to take a leading role in any UNHCR-organized multi-country effort to resettle the most vulnerable refugees," referring the UN's Refugee Agency.

"The US stands ready to help the countries of the region bear the burden and save lives today. We have a common obligation to answer the call of these migrants who have risked their lives at sea," Harf told the press. More than 1,000 Rohingya have been resettled in the United States since October.

Harf was keen to stress that the effort to help the Rohingya will be an international one, and not led by the US alone.

Neighbors agree to shelter refugees

The United States welcomed a decision reached by Indonesia and Malaysia at a regional summit on Wednesday, wherein

the two nations agreed to shelter 7,000 fleeing Rohingya and Bangladeshis

, scrapping their former policy of turning away the migrants.

Thailand's foreign minister, who also attended the summit, eschewed joining in the shelter program, saying he needed to discuss it with the rest of his country's government. Myanmar, where the Rohingya face systematic persecution and are not recognized as citizens, did not send any delegates to the summit.

A delegation from the US will be present at the next international conference on the refugees, to be held in Bangkok on May 29. Ahead of the conference, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken is set to meet with Myanmar's leaders to urge them to work with Bangladesh to help rescue the refugees stranded at sea - often in appalling, overcrowded conditions presided over by human traffickers.

es/msh (AFP, Reuters)

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