ASEAN Governments Called to Search And Rescue Rohingya Refugees At Sea

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Durian. Amnesty International called members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on July 27 to launch coordinating search and rescue mission for remaining Rohignya refugees who are possible still at sea in their territories.

The call was made following the rescue of 26 Rohingya refugees on the island of Rebak Besar, Malaysia on July 26.

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Previously, the survivors were feared drowned off Langkawi Resort Island based on Malaysian coast guard report.

About 1,400 Rohingya refugees have left refugee camps in Bangladesh by boats since January 2020. They have been at sea for several months and some of them have reached Malaysian and Indonesian waters.

According to Amnesty, 202 refugees were allowed by Malaysian authority to disembark from a boat that was adrift off Langkawi’s coast in April, while other boats have been pushed back by military and coastguard and they have returned to Bangladesh.

Authorities in Bangladesh allowed those refugees to disembark, but some of them are held in Bhashan Char Island in Bengal Bay where they have “limited access to their families or humanitarian and protection services”.

When Rohingya refugees’ boats reached Thailand waters, they were pushed back to the international area as well.

In early June, Malaysian authorities allowed another Rohingya boat with 269 refugees to disembark. One woman body was found on the damaged-engine boat.

Almost 100 others arrived in Indonesia’s North Aceh waters in June and based on public pressures, those refugees were allowed to disembark by Indonesian authorities.

Amnesty said numerous Rohingya refugees were reported to have died during their journey.

Therefore, Amnesty said as many as hundreds of other Rohingya may still be at sea on a larger “mother boat” where they are most likely in critical condition. Such boats have been pushed away by both Malaysian and Thai authorities, the human rights organization said.

“Such potential tragedies could be avoided if Malaysian and Thai authorities allowed Rohingya refugees to disembark from boats instead of callously pushing them back out to sea,” Rachel Chhoa-Howard, researcher from Amnesty International said, referring to the death of numerous Rohingya people in their long journey to seek safety places.

Rohingya people fled their origin country of Myanmar, a member of Asean, for safety due to persecution and repression based political ground.

However, Asean has non-interference principle in which Rohingya issue is seen as Myanmar’s domestic problem that cannot be interfered by others and should be solved by the country itself.

“The situation of remaining Rohingya refugees still stranded at sea for months is desperate. Asean governments must immediately launch coordinated search and rescue missions for remaining survivors; allow all boats carrying refugees and migrants to land safely in the nearest country; and meet their humanitarian needs. Unless this happens, more lives will inevitably be lost,” Chhoa-Howard called.

All of Asean member states are non-party to the United Nations Convention 1951 on Refugees. Therefore, the governments of Asean do not have obligation to receive asylum seekers and refugees.

However, based on humanitarian grounds several Asean member states such as Malaysia and Indonesia allow asylum seekers to transit in their territory temporarily.

Asean member countries are Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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