RRN urges Malaysian government to urgently search and rescue Rohingya boats

Immediate Release

London UK (April 18, 2020) – Malaysia has just turned away another Rohingya boat carrying 200 people, the second boat within a week. The first one had more than 480 people – most of them were women and children – and out of those only 396 were rescued by the Bangladesh Coast Guard on April 16. The remaining people had starved to death as evidenced by the emaciated survivors. The rescued people said there are at least two more ships remain adrift at the sea between Bangladesh and Malaysia.

The COVID-19 Pandemic is a global issue but it shouldn’t be an excuse for Malaysia to push back the boat. In terms of probabilities, they have a much higher chance of contracting the disease once they land, than of carrying the virus in the first place.

Some human right organizations have already raised questions pertaining to human security and the humanitarian obligations of the states at one end of the spectrum and national security considerations that come with such mass arrivals on the other.

Thailand based human right organization Fortify right released a statement demanding the Malaysian Government to deploy search and rescue for Rohingya boats and ensure safe disembarkation.

The statement also points out “Pushback” and “help-on” actions and policies violate the principal of non-refoulement, which prohibits the “rejection at the frontier, interception and indirect refoulement” of individuals at risk of persecution. Although Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia are not signatories to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, the principle of non-refoulement is part of customary international law and is therefore binding on all states. Under this principle, all countries in Southeast Asia are obligated to protect Rohingya from being returned, including through returns that are informal such as pushbacks out to sea.

In 2015, thousands of Rohingya people died when Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia pushed back boats out to sea. Later, Malaysian former prime minister Najib Tun Razak said his country would conduct search and rescue missions for Rohingya boats in the Andaman Sea.

In a statement on April 16, the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) commends the Government of Bangladesh for rescuing the boat of Rohingya refugees and drew attention that Bangladesh must not be left alone to host and provide protection to Rohingya refugees. APRRN calls on the Government of Malaysia to continue to exemplify the same humanitarian spirit it recently demonstrated, receiving and providing aid to Rohingya refugees that landed in its territory on 18 March and 5 April.

Malaysia hosts to more than 178,000 refugees and people seeking asylum, the majority from Burma and more than half of all of Malaysia’s refugee are Rohingya. But because they have no legal status, job opportunities are limited. They also have little or no access to basic services such as education and healthcare, and are vulnerable to arrests and deportation. A small number are resettled in third countries.

However, respecting international law, Malaysia must not instantly push back the boat people fleeing to save their lives from genocidal violence. By continuing to do so, Malaysia’s reputation will be at risk. Thus, Malaysia is obligated to search and rescue them and allow to seek protection.

For more information:

Rohingya Refugee Network (RRN)
Email: rohingyarefugeenetwork@gmail.com