UN concerned over ‘grave immediate risk’ to Rohingya refugees on boats

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LONDON: The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR voiced mounting concern yesterday over a “grave immediate risk” to Rohingya refugees aboard boats in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, urging Southeast Asian nations not to close avenues to asylum.

Several fishing trawlers carrying hundreds of Rohingya, members of a Muslim minority from Myanmar, are bound for Bangladesh, after being turned back from Malaysia where they were seeking asylum, according to rights groups.

Last week, a boat carrying nearly 400 starving and emaciated Rohingya arrived on the southern coast of Bangladesh after drifting for weeks in the sea between Thailand and Malaysia, the Bangladesh coast guard said. Survivors said dozens had died.

Indrika Ratwatte, director of UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, said it was urging “greater coordination and responsibility-sharing by states” to avert a crisis.

“We are 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 on board,” he said.

“In the context of the unprecedented current COVID-19 crisis, all states must manage their borders as they see fit.  —Agencies

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