Bangkok, May 2 (efe-epa).- Amnesty International has urged governments in the South and Southeast Asia region to take collective immediate action and protect hundreds of people, believed to be Rohingya refugees, whose lives are at risk since they remain stuck at sea.
In an open letter to the regional governments released late Friday, the global rights group said some counties had pushed away several fishing trawlers packed with hundreds of women, men and children, and denied them permission to disembark invoking Covid-19 pandemic related restrictions.
The trawlers were spotted in the Bay of Bengal after Malaysian authorities pushed them away and were headed towards Bangladesh after an earlier vessel carrying nearly 400 Rohingya refugees arrived there on Apr.15.
However, Bangladesh categorically said it will not accept any more Rohingyas, and criticized the European Union and the British government for supporting Myanmar.
The Bangladesh government urged global leadership and the United Nations to take the responsibilities of the refugees who have fled the military persecution in Myanmar.
The rights watchdog in a collective appeal to the governments of Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Timor-Leste, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam that they should “work together and take immediate action to protect people whose lives are at risk”.
“Any national and regional measures must meet governments’ responsibilities under international law and respect the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers,” the nonprofit said.
The group lamented that the current situation, in which hundreds of lives are again at risk, had demonstrated the absence of a coordinated response.
It urged the governments within the South and Southeast Asia regions to co-ordinate search and rescue operations to locate and assist boats in distress, in line with regional declarations and international law.
It said the governments should allow all boats carrying refugees and migrants to land safely in the nearest country and not push them away, threaten or otherwise intimidate them.
The governments, besides providing them immediate relief and humanitarian aid, should “respect the principle of non-refoulement by ensuring people are not transferred to any place, including their country of origin, where their lives are at risk, or where they may be tortured or persecuted”.
The group also asked Myanmar to put an end to systemic discrimination and violence against the Rohingya people and ensure free and unimpeded access to Rakhine State by humanitarian actors, international human rights organizations, and journalists.
Nearly 738,000 Rohingya refugees are living in camps in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, 2017, following a wave of persecution and violence in Myanmar that the UN has described as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing and possible genocide.
Undocumented Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants have been using the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea to reach other countries in a quest for a better life.
At least 15 Rohingyas drowned in February when a boat carrying them sank off the coast of Bangladesh while on its way to Malaysia. EFE-EPA