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Malaysia Launches New Effort to Resolve Boat Refugee Crisis

A Malaysian navy vessel patrols waters near Langkawi island, May 17, 2015.
A Malaysian navy vessel patrols waters near Langkawi island, May 17, 2015.

Malaysia launched new talks with its neighbors Sunday to try to resolve the deepening crisis of refugees stranded in Southeast Asia's waters on boats that no nation appears willing to let come ashore.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman met with his counterpart from Bangladesh, Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, and is planning meetings with Indonesian and Thai foreign ministers on Wednesday.

Anifah said Malaysia "cannot afford to accept more of them, as a huge number already exist here, and so far no countries want to settle them."

Two weeks into the crisis, Thailand and Indonesia also say they will not take in more refugees, fearing that accepting the current influx of boat people would lead to an unrelenting flow of migrants. Thousands of those at sea are Muslim Rohingya fleeing oppression in the mainly Buddhist country of Myanmar, also known as Burma, along with impoverished Bangladeshis.

Myanmar denies the Muslim Rohingya citizenship and has rejected a Thai call for a May 29 regional summit on the migrant problem.

Mohammad Nazmul Quaunine, Bangladesh's ambassador to Indonesia, visited some Bangladeshi migrants who have reached shore and are being held at a temporary shelter in Langsa, Indonesia. He called for multi-national cooperation.

"Now this has become a serious humanitarian and security crisis and the international community, I think they are working, many of them are in the sea now so we have to save their lives for the time being and then we have to address the root causes," Quaunine said.

Despite the standoff, nearly 3,000 refugees have been rescued or swum to shore in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand over the last week.

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