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Calls for rescue effort as Rohingyas at sea die of starvation

  • Published at 04:03 pm April 17th, 2020
File photo: Rohingya refugees who were rescued by Bangladesh Coast Guard in Teknaf upazila of Cox's Bazar on Wednesday, April 15, 2020 Dhaka Tribune

Malaysian authorities reportedly forcing refugee boats back to the sea

Aid agencies and rights bodies have called for urgent search and rescue efforts for boats carrying Rohingyas adrift at sea.

It comes after at least 30 Rohingyas had died at sea, and 396 were rescued by Bangladesh authorities on Thursday from a boat which had been adrift for over two months as they attempted to sail to safety in Malaysia.

The surviving Rohingyas, who were mostly women and children, said they had set sail in a fishing trawler from the camps in Cox’s Bazar in mid-February.

Fortify Rights said on Friday that at least two other boats remain adrift in the sea between Bangladesh and Malaysia, according to a report by UNB.

"Sending an ill-equipped ship of refugees out to sea is unlawful and a death sentence," said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer of the rights body.

According to it, Malaysian authorities reportedly forced the boat, which was rescued by Bangladesh on Thursday, back out to sea and the refugees were subsequently adrift for weeks and up to 60 died.

The government of Malaysia should urgently coordinate with regional governments to deploy search and rescue missions, the regional rights organization said.

On April 16, Malaysian authorities located another boat of more than 200 Rohingyas and forced it back to sea.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) in a statement said the RMAF and Royal Malaysian Navy "prevented [the boat] from entering the country's territorial waters" and that "such aerial maritime surveillance operations will be intensified." 

Meanwhile, the UNHCR also sought "stepped-up search and rescue efforts" that needed to be conducted in a timely manner amid reports of Rohingya boats in the sea, reports UNB.  

"All States should ensure that their responses to migrants in distress at sea are based on international human rights and refugee law and that they are permitted safe disembarkation," Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville said in Geneva on Friday.

Dangerous interception practices, including pushing back boats that are trying to land, must be scrupulously avoided, said the UNHCR Spokesperson.

The UNHCR appreciated Bangladesh for providing important protection to the Rohingyas saying Bangladesh should continue to do so.

"Bangladesh has provided important protection to the refugees and should continue to do so," said the Spokesperson.

Colville said that the UNHCR was “shocked by the news” of death of 30 Rohingyas on board and that nearly 400 others were found dehydrated and malnourished after nearly two months at sea.

"We are aware of reports that this boat had repeatedly sought a safe harbour, but the vessel was unable to land in Malaysia," he said.

Whatever efforts are taken to combat people smuggling, this should be a time for compassion towards those in desperate need of assistance and protection, said the Spokesperson.

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