UNHCR urges governments to continue high seas live-saving operations
GENEVA, May 12 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee
agency on Tuesday called on governments in South-east Asia to step up
search-and-rescue efforts and keep their borders open, amid continuing
reports that thousands of people are stranded on smugglers' boats
between the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malacca.
"Our partner, the Thailand-based NGO, The Arakan Project, estimates that several thousand people – believed to be mostly Rohingya and Bangladeshi nationals –
could be adrift at sea as smugglers abandon them to avoid arrest in the
wake of recent crackdowns in Thailand and Malaysia," spokesman Adrian
Edwards said in Geneva.
"UNHCR welcomes the rescue of hundreds of people off the coast of
Indonesia and Malaysia in recent days. Through various sources we have
been alerted that there could be more such boats in the region that
still need to be located and assisted. UNHCR appeals to governments to
continue their life-saving operations to find and safely disembark the
passengers, many of whom are believed to be in a weakened state after
days, possibly weeks with little food and water," he added.
UNHCR staff have been on the ground to talk to the survivors in
support of government efforts. In Thailand, where more than 230
smuggling victims have surrendered to the police in recent days after
they escaped or were abandoned in smugglers' camps, UNHCR teams are
distributing relief items and providing counselling.
In Indonesia, UNHCR has sent a team to Lhoksukon in northern Aceh to
assist the government in interviewing groups rescued by the Indonesian
navy over the weekend and provide them with protection.
In Malaysia, local authorities say 1,093 people – including many believed to be Rohingya –
arrived by boat in Langkawi on Sunday. A UNHCR staff member is
currently in Langkawi to meet with the authorities and local contacts.
"We are aware of the challenges of managing such a humanitarian
emergency, and we have offered our assistance to the government,"
While those involved include both asylum-seekers and migrants, the
first priority is humanitarian relief, followed by the identification of
those in need of international protection.
UNHCR urges against indefinite detention of those rescued, who should
be given access to basic rights and services including family
unification, shelter, health care and, where possible, the right to work
while longer-term solutions are sought. The agency stand ready to help
address the root causes of the outflow, including the resolution of
longstanding citizenship issues for the Rohingya.