VATICAN CITY, May 24 (Reuters) - Pope Francis called on the international community on Sunday to help migrants crossing the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, thousands of whom have been stranded on boats with dwindling supplies.
“I continue to follow with profound worry and pain in my heart the stories of many refugees in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea,” Francis said to crowds who had gathered for his Pentecost Sunday address in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican.
A migrant crisis has flared up in Southeast Asia as Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar and Bangladeshis trying to escape poverty at home become prey to human traffickers.
After Thailand cracked down on the practice, traffickers began abandoning overloaded boats on the open sea rather than trying to smuggle the people through Thailand. The United Nations refugee agency said on Friday some 3,500 are stranded.
Francis said he appreciated the efforts of countries that have agreed to take in people who are facing “severe suffering and danger”, but encouraged “the international community to offer them humanitarian assistance”.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister has pledged assistance and ordered the navy to rescue thousands adrift at sea. Malaysia and Indonesia offered to allow the migrants to come on shore temporarily but Thailand has said it would not follow suit. (Reporting by Isla Binnie; editing by David Clarke)