500 Rohingyas stranded at sea, countries say it’s not their responsibility

Rohingya refugees gather after being rescued in Teknaf near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, April 16, 2020.
 © 2020 AP Photo

Some 500 Rohingya refugees stranded on board two fishing trawlers in the Bay of Bengal after being rejected by Malaysia, which has imposed restrictions on all boats in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, the stranded Rohingya might “have been at sea for weeks without adequate food and water”.

The Bangladesh government has refused to allow Rohingya refugees stranded in the Bay of Bengal to come ashore, drawing criticism from rights groups including HRW, Amnesty and UNHCR.

On Saturday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the government of Bangladesh should immediately allow stranded refugees ashore and provide them with the necessary food, water, and healthcare.

“Bangladesh has shouldered a heavy burden as the result of the Myanmar military’s atrocity crimes, but this is no excuse to push boatloads of refugees out to sea to die,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW.

“Bangladesh should continue to help those at grave risk and preserve the international goodwill it has gained in recent years for helping the Rohingya,” In a statement, HRW said.

HRW also said that “all countries, including Malaysia and Thailand, have the responsibility under international law to respond to boats in distress, enact or coordinate rescue operations within their search and rescue operations, and not to push back asylum seekers risking their lives at sea.”

Global rights watchdog Amnesty International also urged Bangladesh to allow the approximately 500 Rohingya on the boats to come ashore. In a statement, Amnesty said the two trawlers were turned away from Malaysia over concerns about the coronavirus.

“In contrast to the cruel indifference demonstrated by other governments, who have actively pushed away boats, Bangladesh has maintained its positive record of giving sanctuary to people who have lost their homes and suffered horrific crimes,” said Biraj Patnaik, the group’s South Asia director.

“We hope that Bangladesh will continue to welcome Rohingya refugees in these difficult times. The international community has an obligation to help the Bangladeshi authorities in this task, including in supporting efforts to set up quarantine centers and provide refugees the immediate medical assistance they require to recover from the journey and to protect them against the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” he added.

The Bangladeshi foreign minister, pointed out that other countries need to come forward to help the Rohingya.

Bangladesh hosts nearly a million Rohingya refugees who fled mass atrocities in Myanmar.

“Why you are asking Bangladesh to take those Rohingyas? They are in the deep sea, not even in Bangladesh’s territorial water. There are at least eight coastal countries surrounding the Bay of Bengal. It’s your duty to ask Myanmar government first because those are their citizens,” Momen told Al Jazeera

“Please ask UN and other countries like USA, UK and Canada to shoulder some responsibility. We are ready to send Rohingya people to their country if they are willing to take them,” he added.

On April 15, Bangladesh coast guard officials rescued one boat of Rohingya refugees which had reportedly been turned away by Malaysia nearly two months earlier. About 390 starving Rohingya, most under 20 years old, were brought ashore, with reports that as many as 100 may have died on board before the rescue.

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