Parliamentarians from Southeast Asia have urged ASEAN member states and other countries in the region to urgently rescue a boat carrying up to 200 Rohingya refugees, including women and children, which has reportedly been adrift off the coasts of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and India for weeks.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the boat has been adrift in high seas since late November, and dozens on board have already died during the journey, while survivors have no access to food, drinking water or medication.
“We urgently call on ASEAN member states and other countries in the region to fulfill their humanitarian obligations and launch search and rescue operations for the boat if it enters their waters, and to allow for the proper disembarkation of the refugees. It is disgraceful that a boat filled with men, women, and children in grave danger has been allowed to remain adrift. Neglecting the people on the boat is nothing short of an affront to humanity,” said Eva Sundari, Board Member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), and former member of the Indonesian House of Representatives.
According to media reports and information from human rights organizations, two other boats carrying Rohingya refugees have been adrift in the past weeks.
One, carrying 154 refugees, was rescued by a Vietnamese oil service vessel on December 8. They were handed over to the Myanmar navy.
Another, carrying 104 refugees, was rescued by the Sri Lanka navy on December 18 and disembarked at Kankesanturai Harbor.
The Rohingyas have been suffering persecution in their country of origin, Myanmar, for decades.
The overwhelming majority of them were rendered stateless in the early 1990s by the authorities, and have suffered the most serious human rights violations since at least the late seventies.
In 2016 and 2017 they were the target of brutal military operations, displacing over 730,000 to neighbouring Bangladesh and for which the Myanmar army has been accused of genocide.
In these desperate conditions, many of them put themselves at the hands of unscrupulous human smugglers to seek a better life in countries like Malaysia, in extremely dangerous journeys through the Andaman Sea.
“In all likelihood, the delay in rescuing these boats has already caused untold suffering and loss of life. Any further delay is unconscionable. This neglect of Rohingya refugees stranded in the sea is nothing new, as it has been going on for years, and has resulted in hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths that could have been easily been prevented if the countries in the region fulfilled the most elementary humanitarian principles,” said Charles Santiago, Chairperson of APHR, and former member of Parliament from Malaysia.
APHR urged ASEAN to devise a comprehensive and coordinated regional response to the issue of refugees stranded at sea, in order to act effectively, and according to humanitarian principles, in such situations, as saving lives at sea must be a collective effort.
But ASEAN should also address the root causes of the tragedy that befell the Rohingya for so many years, including putting pressure on the Myanmar authorities to restore their citizenship, and receiving the refugees currently living in camps in Bangladesh, APHR said on Tuesday.
ASEAN should also help to hold the perpetrators of atrocities against the Rohingya people accountable, especially now that the army that launched the genocidal military operations against them in 2016 and 2017 has thrown Myanmar into chaos since staging an illegal coup d’état on February 1, 2021.
“ASEAN and the international community at large have stood idly for too long as the Rohingya tragedy unfolded over the years. Those countries who claim to defend human rights have a moral obligation to address the root causes of the human rights crisis afflicting the Rohingya, or these humanitarian tragedies will only repeat again and again. ASEAN member states, as well as their partners in the region and beyond, must ensure that Myanmar restore the rights of the Rohingya people, end all discriminatory practices and holds those responsible for crimes against humanity to account,” said Kasit Piromya, APHR Board Member and former Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs.