The United Nations High Commission on Refugees released a media statement on Thursday 13 May, voicing its concerns about the alleged treatment of Rohinhyan refugees by both the Malaysian and Indonesian governments this week.
The UNHCR said it was “extremely alarmed at reports suggesting that Indonesia and Malaysia may have pushed back boats carrying vulnerable people from Myanmar and Bangladesh.”
The UNHCR said that on “Monday the Indonesian navy stated that it had escorted a boat out to sea, although it is not clear if this represents a change in the government’s policy. Yesterday Malaysia’s Maritime Enforcement Agency announced that it would not let foreign ships dock unless they are unseaworthy and sinking.”
UNHCR said countries should focus the saving lives off people force to flee from persecution in their own countries.
“The first priority is to save lives. Instead of competing to avoid responsibility, it is key for States to share the responsibility to disembark these people immediately,” said Volker Türk, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.
Mr Türk, the UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection said in the refugee agency’s media statement that people taking to sea to escape persecution, conflict and poverty is a sign of their desperation.
“Sea crossings are a symptom of desperation as people are left with no other choice but to risk their lives.”
Mr Türk reiterated the refugee agency’s worldwide call for countries to offer refugees legal alternatives to access protection and safety… “Nobody should have to put their lives into the hands of ruthless smugglers.”
The UNHRC media statement added to statements issued by international human rights groups such as Human Rights watch and Fortify Rights calling for governments to help the thousands of people on caught on boats in the Andaman Sea and Straits of Malacca before it turns into a humanitarian tradegy.
The UNHCR urged “governments to facilitate disembarkation and keep their borders and ports open to prevent a humanitarian crisis at sea.”
The UNHCR said it was calling on “countries in South-east Asia to approach this as a regional issue with real human consequences as it has been engaging governments in the region on the growing problem of irregular maritime movements. The agency has been sharing information collected from interviews with hundreds of Rohingya who survived the journey, and offering concrete suggestions on coordinated responses.”
The United Nations High Commission on Refugees explained in its media statement that “once the humanitarian needs are met, agencies like UNHCR can support States to interview the different groups and target solutions to their specific needs, as those being rescued are likely to be a mix of refugees, economic migrants, victims of trafficking, unaccompanied and separated children among those being smuggled.”