UN expert calls for emergency response to save Rohingya lives at sea

November 23rd, 2023  •  Author:   UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar  •  4 minute read
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GENEVA (23 November 2023) – A UN expert today called for a regional emergency response to the growing number of desperate Rohingya refugees who continue to arrive in Indonesia in overcrowded vessels, as conditions in refugee camps in Bangladesh continue to deteriorate, where food rations have been significantly cut.

“The crisis will only worsen without addressing its root cause – the illegal military junta of Myanmar,” warned Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

Over 1000 Rohingya refugees arrived by boat in Indonesia’s northernmost province of Aceh in the past week.

Andrews commended the Government of Indonesia for offering safety, shelter and support to Rohingya refugees, a majority of whom are women and children in urgent need of nutrition and medical assistance. The expert called on countries in the region to follow Indonesia’s lead by safely disembarking Rohingya refugees who may arrive by boat on their shores.

“The Government of Indonesia should be congratulated for again upholding the rights of the Rohingya and facilitating disembarkation in line with domestic law,” the Special Rapporteur said. “But they cannot do it alone. This is an emergency, and an emergency response is required, including a coordinated search and rescue operation to save the lives of those who may be stranded on overcrowded, unseaworthy vessels.”

Andrews warned that the crisis will continue to worsen unless the root cause of the crisis is finally addressed. “A resolution of the Rohingya refugee crisis is not possible so long as the junta prevents the formation of a government committed to human rights and citizenship for the Rohingya. The international community must address the root causes of the crisis by depriving the junta of the weapons, money, and legitimacy it uses to perpetuate its oppression of the people of Myanmar. Until such time as the Rohingya are able to return to Myanmar voluntarily, with safety and dignity and rights ensured, Member States must fund adequate humanitarian assistance and consider durable solutions for Rohingya refugees, including resettlement,” he said.

Andrews visited Rohingya refugees in Aceh Indonesia earlier this year, including a refugee camp in Pidie, where he was told that desperate Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh were preparing to make the perilous journey.

“I encourage Indonesian authorities to continue to work with humanitarian agencies to meet the needs of Rohingya refugees, including by establishing new shelters for recent arrivals. Services should be provided for the most vulnerable, including women and children, who may be at risk of exploitation and human trafficking,” the expert said.

Andrews expressed grave concern that the arrivals signal the beginning of significant numbers of Rohingya fleeing desperate conditions in Bangladesh.

“Frankly, who can blame them? Parents have reached a breaking-point as their children suffer from hunger and malnutrition and face the threat of increasing violence in the camps,” he said. “These families are not boarding overcrowded vessels because they want to, they are doing so because they are desperate and see no choice.”

“No state should—as some have done in the past—refuse Rohingya refugees disembarkation or push boats back out to sea,” he said.

*The expert: Mr. Thomas Andrews, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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