WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Friday it had urged Thailand to consider sheltering stateless Rohingya Muslims who have fled Myanmar and are adrift in boats in the Indian Ocean, and urged countries in the region not to send the migrants back to sea.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the plight of the refugees by telephone with Thai Foreign Minister General Tanasak Patimapragorn late on Thursday.
Nearly 800 migrants were brought ashore in Indonesia on Friday, but other vessels crammed with them were sent back to sea despite a United Nations call to rescue thousands adrift in Southeast Asian waters with dwindling food and water.
“The secretary called his Thai counterpart (Thursday) night to discuss the situation of migrants in the Andaman Sea and to discuss the possibility of Thailand providing temporary shelter,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters.
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar and Bangladesh are stranded on boats as regional governments block them from landing.
Rathke said nearly 3,000 migrants had landed in Indonesia and Malaysia this week and were receiving help.
He added U.S. ambassadors are “intensely engaged” with governments about mounting a rapid humanitarian response.
Many of the boat people are Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Washington continued to raise its concerns with Myanmar over the migrants that are fleeing “because of dire humanitarian and economic situations they face at home out of fear of ethnic and religious violence.”
In a routine note to Congress, U.S. President Barack Obama said the United States, while not curtailing engagement with Myanmar as it introduces democratic reforms after decades of military rule, would maintain some sanctions on the country.
Obama justified the decision by citing concerns about human rights abuses “particularly in ethnic minority areas and Rakhine State” and about the lack of civilian oversight over the military, which he said often “acts with impunity.”
“Despite this action, the United States remains committed to supporting and strengthening Burma’s reform efforts and to continue working both with the Burmese government and people to ensure that the democratic transition is sustained and irreversible,” Obama added.
Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Arshad Mohammed, additional reporting by Julia Edwards; editing by David Storey and Christian Plumb