LANGKAWI, Malaysia — Rohingya and Bangladeshis abandoned at sea following a crackdown on human traffickers had nowhere to go Thursday after Malaysia turned away two wooden boats crammed with hundreds of hungry people. Thailand, too, made it clear the migrants were not wanted.

“What do you expect us to do?” asked Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Jafaar. “We have been very nice to the people who broke into our border. We have treated them humanely, but they cannot be flooding our shores like this.”

“We have to send the right message,” he said, “that they are not welcome here.”

Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, meanwhile, said his country couldn’t afford to host the refugees.

“If we take them all in, then anyone who wants to come will come freely,” he said. “Where will the budget come from?”

He had no suggestions as to where they should go, saying: “No one wants them.”

Southeast Asia for years tried to quietly ignore the plight of Myanmar’s 1.3 million Rohingya but finds itself caught in a spiraling humanitarian crisis that in many ways it helped create. In the last three years, more than 120,000 members of the Muslim minority, who are intensely persecuted in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, have boarded ships to flee to other countries, paying huge sums to human traffickers.

But faced with a regional crackdown, some captains and smugglers have abandoned the ships, leaving an estimated 6,000 refugees to fend for themselves, according to reliable aid workers and human rights groups.

Around 1,600 have washed to shore in recent days – a thousand on Langkawi, a resort island in northern Malaysia, and another 600 arriving surreptitiously in Indonesia.

But nearly just as many have been sent away. And now food and water supplies are running low.


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