• Wednesday, Jul 08, 2020
  • Last Update : 12:41 am

Momen: Other nations also have responsibility to shelter Rohingyas

  • Published at 04:35 pm April 28th, 2020
Malaysia Rohingya
File photo: A boat carrying suspected ethnic Rohingya migrants is seen detained in Malaysian territorial waters on April 5, 2020 Reuters

The diplomat said it is the responsibility of all countries surrounding the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea to help the distressed people stranded in deep sea

It has been pointed out that international communities continuously call only on Bangladesh to shelter Rohingyas floating in the ocean nearby, while other nations remain reluctant to share the burden. 

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen has urged all countries to take effective steps quickly to resolve the Rohingya crisis. 

He conveyed the message when British Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the United Nations Lord Ahmad made a phone call to him on Monday, requesting Bangladesh to give shelter to floating Rohingyas in the Bay of Bengal. 

"Despite limited resources, Bangladesh has already given shelter to around 1.1 million Rohingyas on humanitarian grounds. The relatively small number of Rohingyas floating in the ocean are outside Bangladesh’s territory," UNB reported the foreign minister as responding. 

The diplomat said it is the responsibility of all countries surrounding the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea to help the distressed people stranded in deep sea. 

There are eight countries - Myanmar, India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Bangladesh – in the Bay of Bengal region. 

Momen said even though Bangladesh was requested to give shelter to floating Rohingyas on humanitarian grounds, other countries in the region were not requested to do the same.

He asked the UK minister, during their phone call, to rescue the floating Rohingyas using ships from the Royal Fleet.  

The foreign minister also argued that other countries should take in as many Rohingya refugees as Bangladesh has to share the burden. 

Earlier, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) sought greater coordination and responsibility-sharing by states to address the maritime movements of refugees and asylum-seekers in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. 

"We’re increasingly concerned by reports of failure to disembark vessels in distress and of the grave immediate risk this poses to the men, women, and children aboard," said Indrika Ratwatte, UNHCR director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific.

The UNHCR official said saving lives at sea must be a collective effort in which any one state that rescues and disembarks refugees can draw on resources pooled from other states in the region.

"Predictable disembarkation and safe pathway for refugees in distress strengthen public health by ensuring that whatever the manner of arrival, people go through appropriate health screening," said Ratwatte.

Rescue at sea and allowing the persecuted to seek asylum are fundamental tenets of customary international law, by which all states are bound, said the UN agency. 

Beyond the current Covid-19 crisis, Ratwatte said, a predictable and humane disembarkation approach will remain critical. "UNHCR is calling on all states to uphold these lifesaving obligations to refugees and asylum-seekers."

The UNHCR said search and rescue, along with prompt disembarkation, are lifesaving acts. 

"The dire and, in many cases, fatal predicament of thousands of refugees and migrants in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea in 2015 ultimately demonstrated the critical, humanitarian imperative for solidarity and joint action to address threats to life at sea," said Ratwatte, reports UNB.

The 2016 Bali Declaration embodied these principles and outlined the way forward to prevent another crisis in the Andaman Sea. 

"We must not return to such life-threatening uncertainty today," said Ratwatte.

In the context of the unprecedented ongoing Covid-19 crisis, the UNHCR official said, all states must manage their borders as they see fit. 

"But such measures shouldn‘t result in the closure of avenues to asylum, or of forcing people to return to situations of danger. UNHCR stands ready to support governments in carrying out responsible disembarkation procedures and quarantine measures to ensure that public health issues are addressed."

Ratwatte said the challenge of irregular movement is not unique to Asia. 

Refugees and asylum-seekers move through unofficial and often inherently risky channels because it is the only option available to them. The reality for many refugees is that persecution and threats to their lives and well-being are more immediate than the threat posed by Covid-19.

"UNHCR notes and is encouraged by the Association of South East Asian States’ clear commitment to joint action and a whole-of-society approach in the context of Covid-19," said the UNHCR official. 

Leaving no-one behind is the only lasting means of ensuring that we collectively beat this global challenge, and they are all only as strong as their most vulnerable members, said Ratwatte.

Human rights bodies not vocal enough 

Momen said other countries, especially developed ones, should come forward in giving shelter to Rohingya people, adding that it is their responsibility as well. 

The foreign minister said military operations are still going on in Myanmar, with many Rohingya people losing their lives. 

A few days ago, more Rohingyas tried to enter Bangladesh fleeing from the carnage in Myanmar, Dr Momen said. 

And yet, he said, countries under the European Union are investing in Myanmar. "Human rights organizations are not vocal on these issues."

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