By Azad Majumder
Dhaka, April 23 (EFE).- Bangladesh won’t accept any more Rohingyas, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said Thursday, amid reports that hundreds of refugees were stranded at sea trying to enter the country.
“We have decided we won’t allow any new Rohingya. This is for the normal time in addition to the Covid-19 situation. We don’t want to accept any people in areas that we want to keep protected,” Momen told EFE.
Rights group Amnesty International said Wednesday that two fishing trawlers carrying an estimated 500 Rohingya women, men, and children were in the Bay of Bengal after Malaysian authorities pushed them away.
The two trawlers are headed towards Bangladesh a week after an earlier vessel carrying nearly 400 Rohingya refugees arrived there on Apr.15, the rights group said.
Momen admitted that they had reports about the two boats but said the government’s priority was the top protect the refugee camp area where tens of thousands Rohingyas are currently living.
“It’s a crowded area. If one infected person comes somehow he will spoil everything,” he said.
Momen said ongoing unrest in Myanmar’s Rakhine state between the Arakan Army and Myanmar Army is another reason for Bangladesh to turn back the Rohingyas.
“Seemingly a war is going on between Rakhine Army and the Myanmar Army. It a battle zone…moreover, they (Myanmar) released 800 Rohingyas before the election. They were sent back to Rakhine, so we don’t know who is coming,” he said.
The minister also criticized the European Union and the British government for supporting Myanmar and urged the global leadership and the United Nations to take the responsibilities of Rohingyas.
“Myanmar is using military force again, violating human rights, yet the European Union gave them a grant for their textile sector … Britain continued GSP facilities… and the conflicts that are going on, no rights group talk about this,” he said.
“Global leadership, the UN should take care of them. Let them take these Rohingyas. How many (more) we would accept? Many leaders say many things. They have no shortage of land. Let them accept the Rohingyas. Everyone is being pushed towards us.”
The UN’s refugee agency also expressed its concern over Rohingyas stranded at the sea and urged greater coordination and responsibility-sharing between states to address the maritime movements of refugees and asylum-seekers in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.
“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,” Indrika Ratwatte, UNHCR Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement.
“In the context of the Covid-19 crisis, all states must manage their borders as they see fit. But such measures should not result in the closure of avenues to asylum, or of forcing people to return to situations of danger.”
Authorities in Bangladesh on Apr 16 rescued 396 Rohingyas who were trying to enter the country in a boat from the southern coast, after 58 days at sea.
Most of them had left refugee camps in Bangladesh for Malaysia but they were unable to enter the country or any other place and decided to return, said a Bangladesh coastguard spokesperson.
Quoting the rescued Rohingyas, the coastguard official said at least 28 people died because there was no food or water available, and the bodies were dumped into the sea.
Bangladesh sealed its border with Myanmar in March and put Rohingya refugee camps in the country’s southern district of Cox’s Bazar under complete lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19 infections.
However, the authorities have reported no case from the Rohingya camps.