No country in East and Southeast Asia is yet to respond to the United Nations’ call for hosting Rohingyas, who are pushed to open sea by Malaysia.
The East Asian country recently pushed one and possibly more fishing trawlers with hundreds of Rohingya asylum seekers aboard back to sea, and neighboring Thailand, indicating that it will refuse entry to Rohingya boats.
Till Wednesday, neither the UN nor any other countries have actual information on the exact location of the Rohingya boats. Bangladesh officials also said they are searching the boats in the sea to provide humanitarian assistance.
Last week UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is urging greater coordination and responsibility-sharing by states to address the desperate maritime movements of refugees and asylum-seekers in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. But till Wednesday, no responses came by the countries of the region yet.
“We are increasingly concerned about reports of failure to disembark vessels in distress and of the grave immediate risk, this poses to the men, women, and children on board”, an official of UNHCR said in a statement.
There are eight countries in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman sea region - Myanmar, India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Bangladesh.
In response to The Bangladesh Post query on Wednesday Louise Donovan, Communication Officer of UNHCR in Bangladesh said, “UNHCR has received reports of boats with Rohingya refugees aboard being denied entry to countries in the region, including Bangladesh. We are not able to confirm the current location of these boats or their point of departure.”
She said, “We are deeply concerned about the fate of the people on these boats, as weather conditions can change rapidly in the Bay of Bengal during this season.”
According to some reports, the people on board have little food or water.
“We have contacted the governments requesting that the people be allowed to safely disembark and providing assurances. UNHCR would ensure their safe quarantine as a precaution against any possible risk of COVID-19 infection,” said Donovan.
Earlier this month, the Bangladesh authorities and UNHCR worked together to facilitate the safe disembarkation of nearly 400 Rohingya refugees who arrived by boats. Under the government directives, they are in quarantine to confirm they are free of COVID-19.
“These refugees passed through a horrifying ten-week ordeal, where they faced starvation, dehydration and physical abuse. Many died and were tossed overboard. With support from the Government, UNHCR, and partners, they are now recovering”, Louise Donovan said.
On April 15, in Cox’s Bazar coast, Bangladesh Coast Guard rescued one boat of Rohingya refugees which had reportedly been turned away by Malaysia nearly two months ago, with reports, as many as 100 may have died on board before the rescue.
International communities, including UNHCR, right groups, and some western countries have repeatedly urged the Bangladesh government to allow the stranded Rohingyas in the Bay of Bengal. But local officials of coastal areas of Bangladesh said, there is no information about the boats carrying Rohingyas.
Mohammad Kamal Hossain, Deputy Commissioner of Cox’s Bazar, told The Bangladesh Post, “We don’t know where the boats are now and we don’t receive any information from any agencies.”
Across the Bangladesh coast, Bangladesh Coast Guard and other security agencies are now placed on an alert regarding the boats carrying Rohingya asylum seekers.
Capt S M Shariful Islam, Director (Intelligence) of Bangladesh Coast Guard said, “We are keeping eyes on the situation but there is no information to us about the whereabouts of the boats.”
“The higher officials of the government will decide about these Rohingyas. But if their position in our territory at sea is confirmed, they will be treated humanely, as we have done before”, he added.
After requesting Bangladesh to give shelter to floating Rohingyas in the Bay of Bengal by international communities, Foreign Minister Dr. AK Abdul Momen has said, it is the responsibility of all countries surrounding the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea to help the distressed people stranded in the deep sea. He conveyed this when British Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the United Nations Lord Ahmad made a phone call to him on Monday,
"Despite limited resources, Bangladesh has already given shelter to around 1.1 million Rohingyas on humanitarian grounds. The relatively small numbers of Rohingyas floating in the ocean are outside Bangladesh’s territory. Even though Bangladesh was requested to give shelter to floating Rohingyas on humanitarian grounds, but other countries in the region were not requested to do the same." the foreign minister said.