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Free Rohingya Coalition decries pushing refugees out to sea

A boat carrying suspected ethnic Rohingya migrants is seen detained in Malaysian territorial waters, in Langkawi, Malaysia on April 5, 2020. File Photo: Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency/Handout via Reuters

Pushing hundreds of starving and persecuted Rohingya refugees back out to the sea in the full knowledge that they have no safe place of refuge elsewhere are fundamental violations of their human rights, said Free Rohingya Coalition, a global network of Rohingya survivors and activists, today.

It said it is deeply troubled by the news reports that a number of Asian countries, specifically Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh, are pushing starving Rohingya refugees on boats back out to dangerous waters after refusing disembarkation on their shores.

According to foreign ministry sources, two boats with some 500 Rohingya refugees are still in the Myanmar sea of the Bay of Bengal after earlier being refused by the Malaysia and Thailand navies.

"These inhumane acts put the lives of those on the boats at immediate risk as they do not have adequate supplies of drinking water, food or fuel. States are obliged to provide those on board the ships with a place of safety and access to humanitarian support as victims of state persecution and genocide, and as potential victims of trafficking," said Nay San Lwin, co-founder of Free Rohingya Coalition in a statement today.

These latest developments have occurred just weeks ahead of Myanmar's first reporting deadline to the International Court of Justice, which has ordered provisional measures to protect the half-million Rohingyas who remain on Myanmar soil and to prevent genocidal acts against them, including the incitement of genocidal violence.

Khin Maung, the Free Rohingya Coalition's coordinator in the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh and founder of the Rohingya Youth Association said, "We Rohingyas have been fleeing death and destruction at the hands of Myanmar government and local communities in our birthplace of Western Myanmar since long before I was born in the 1990s.

"Our people have resorted to paying brokers to take us somewhere safer, risking death or starvation at sea."

He also said they are in Bangladesh or going to Malaysia because they think these are places of milk and honey.

"We take these high-risk journeys because we are desperate to escape subhuman conditions, and because in Rakhine we can no longer live with the constant threat of another wave of genocidal slaughter or being killed in the fierce fighting between Myanmar troops and the Rakhine rebels."

Nay San Lwin said instead of showing governmental resolve or a collective sense of urgency or state responsibility to end the root cause of genocide and war in Rakhine, ASEAN and South Asian governments have issued empty declarations laced with euphemistic spin such as "irregular maritime movements" and "voluntary, sustainable, and dignified return".

"There is absolutely nothing dignified about hundreds of Rohingyas being pushed back out to sea where they are adrift, desperate for drinking water and starving for weeks. In fact, it is inhumane."

Alongside these push-backs, which have already caused the deaths of dozens onboard, Rohingya refugees have been subjected to an onslaught of racist attacks on social media, believed to be coming from Malaysian citizens of various religious and racial backgrounds, he said.

The volume and targeted nature of these attacks strongly suggest that this is a coordinated nationalist campaign, he added.

The Free Rohingya Coalition says the nations in the region have a responsibility to prevent hate speech and prosecute their nationals who incite racism.

"This is particularly important in a situation where the victims of such attacks are a group that are already the victims of persecution and genocide in the neighbouring ASEAN state of Myanmar."

Copyright 2020 The Daily Star

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