May 8, 2020. Yesterday, 18 humanitarian agencies urged the countries on the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea to conduct search and rescue operations to save the lives of refugees and asylum seekers stranded at sea and allow them to disembark on their shores government should provide adequate assistances. In a joint press statement, they urged the states in the region to take urgent collective solutions to address the issue and better share responsibility for hosting refugees. Organizations gave the statements were Action Contre la Faim, Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, Asian Dignity Initiative, CARE, ChildFund International, COAST Trust, Danish Refugee Council, Humanity and Inclusion, ISDE Bangladesh, Médecins du Monde France, Médecins du Monde Switzerland, MUKTI Cox’s Bazar, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam, PHALS, Plan International, Save the Children, and Solidarités International.
It is to be noted that, hundreds of mainly Rohingya refugees are currently believed to be stranded at sea. Bangladesh has recently allowed 400 refugees to disembark on their shores. However, governments in the region have been increasingly reluctant to allow refugees to disembark, partly due to the current COVID-19 context. At least two boats with refugees have been denied disembarkation and pushed back at sea between Malaysia and Bangladesh in the past weeks.
The statement says, COVID-19 is no excuse to prevent people from disembarking, nor does it exempt States from upholding their obligations under international Human Rights, Humanitarian, Refugee, and Maritime Laws. Pushing people back to sea violates the principle of non-refoulment that forbids States from returning people to territories where they are at risk of persecution or other serious human rights violations. Preventing these boats from coming ashore will probably lead to more deaths at sea.
The humanitarian bodies said, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Bangladesh are all members of the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime, which encourages a regional and coordinated approach to disembarkation. In February 2020, the Bali Process’s Task Force on Planning and Preparedness reaffirmed its commitment to saving lives in responding to “irregular maritime migration” and its support for the non-refoulment principle. Respective government must also address the conditions causing vulnerable people to flee in the middle of a global pandemic. The press statement also call on the government of Myanmar to immediately address the issues that are driving Rohingya to risk their lives on dangerous journeys at sea, including by implementing the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Committee. This should include ensuring granting that citizenship in a non-discriminatory manner to everyone, including the Rohingya population, and removing restrictions on humanitarian access, freedom of movement, and other barriers to accessing essential services.
They urged all the governments in the region to save lives and prioritize the needs of vulnerable people. Governments must provide protection and care to refugees and asylum seekers, including if appropriate, to place them in quarantine facilities while ensuring their rights are respected and basic needs are met. Access to these sites should be granted to humanitarian agencies. Governments should also make swift arrangements for refugees who have disembarked to be reunited with their families.
Please download press release [Bangla] [English] [Regional Statement 18 Humanitarian Agencies ]