22 May 2015
UNHCR official on Southeast Asian migrants issue: ‘it is key for States to share the responsibility to disembark these people immediately’
The United Nations refugee agency has said it is ‘extremely alarmed’ at reports suggesting that Indonesian and Malaysian authorities have pushed back boats carrying numerous migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Indonesian navy stated that it had escorted a boat out to sea this week in a move which may signify a change in the government’s overall policy. Similarly, Malaysia’s Maritime Enforcement Agency announced that it would prohibit foreign ships from docking unless they are unseaworthy and sinking.
‘The first priority is to save lives. Instead of competing to avoid responsibility, it is key for States to share the responsibility to disembark these people immediately’, said Volker Türk, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection. ‘Sea crossings are a symptom of desperation as people are left with no other choice but to risk their lives’, Mr. Türk continued, as he reiterated the UNHCR’s global call for legal alternatives to access protection and safety.
Based on survivor accounts, UNHCR estimates that 300 people died at sea in the first quarter of 2015 as a result of starvation, dehydration or abuse by boat crews. UNHCR added that it was urging governments throughout Southeast Asia to facilitate disembarkation and keep their borders and ports open in an effort to prevent a humanitarian crisis at sea. The growing problem of irregular migration must be approached as a regional question with ‘real human consequences’ and highlights the ‘urgent need for regional cooperation to address the challenge of irregular maritime movements’, the agency concluded.