Twenty-six Rohingya refugees, who had been feared drowned while trying to swim ashore close to the Malaysian resort island of Langkawi, have been found alive, hiding in the vegetation on a nearby islet, a senior coastguard official said on Monday.
Malaysia does not recognise refugee status, but the country is a common destination for the mostly Muslim Rohingya, hundreds of thousands of whom live in densely populated camps in Bangladesh after escaping a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar in 2017.
Late on Saturday, one Rohingya man swam ashore from a small boat off Langkawi’s west coast. Officials had feared the rest of the group had drowned while trying to reach the beach, but they were later discovered on another small island just off the coast.
“They were found hiding in the bushes,” Mohd Zubil Mat Som, director-general of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) said in a text message to Reuters news agency.
Authorities have detained the refugees.
Two Rohingya have also been arrested for suspected trafficking in connection with the people found, Mohd Zubil said.
The refugees were believed to have transferred to a small boat to sneak into Malaysia, having travelled on a “motherboat” carrying hundreds of Rohingya from Bangladesh, the coastguard official said.
Last month, Malaysia detained 269 Rohingya who arrived in Langkawi, the main island of an archipelago of some 100 islands in the Andaman Sea, on a damaged boat. Mohd Zubil had said at the time that dozens of people on the boat were believed to have died during a voyage that lasted four months.
Future Fate of the Rohingya Refugees Seems Uncertain Since Bangladesh is also Struggling with Support.
Coronavirus Pandemic along with Economic Crisis in the midst of Lock Down seem endless and unending. Not a single country is ready to take responsibility of the Rohingya Community as every country is simply appreciating Bangladesh and showing sympathy.
OIC and other organizations aren’t actively taking any action against Myanmar Military Genocide to take the case to International Court of Justice although Bangladesh requested OIC.
They are Neither Here nor There and Where they are. None is ready to take the Responsibility.Rohingya Community is having a life where there is nothing but imprisonment for future generations.
People are helping the helpless but how long will it be continued? We want a permanent solution! Said a Rohingya Leader: Abul Kalam from Kutupalong Refugee Camp, Ukhiya. All other people around him agreed with him all around. They said that we have the same Public Opinion.
Experts at the first Rohingya-Rakhine online seminar Thursday urged reconciliation of minority Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists to restore sustainable peace in Rakhine state in Myanmar.
“Interestingly we are seeing many Rakhine brothers and sisters, and Rakhine media changing their attitude towards us. It gives us an opportunity to start contemplating and aspiring to a Rohingya – Rakhine reconciliation,” Ro Nay San Lwin, co-founder of Free Rohingya Coalition said at the conference.
The Forces for Renewal of Southeast Asia (FORSEA) in collaboration with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and Free Rohingya Coalition (FRC) organized the “What Future for Rakhine?: End Games for the Arakanese (Rakhine, Rohingyas and Other Co-habitants)” seminar.
Referring to the divide and oppressive policies of the Myanmar government, Lwin said: “Rohingya – Rakhine reconciliation is the opposite of what the Myanmar government wants. They don’t want these two communities to get back together.”
He accused the Aung San Suu Kyi administration of still holding colonial attitudes toward the oppressed — not only Rohingya but also other ethnic communities.
“Since the armed conflict erupted between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military in late 2018, many thousands in Rakhine have been displaced. Hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed. There has been rape too. Rohingya have also died.”
He focused on the long history of violence in Arakan [currently Rakhine] state under the patronization of external powers. “Even before Burma [Myanmar] gained independence from the British, Rohingya and Rakhine were divided by the machinations of foreign powers. However, we have lived peacefully side by side,” he said.
“Decades of toxic political thought, speech and action created further divisions between the Rakhine and Rohingya. Most of the politicians from the Rakhine community supported violence against us,” said Lwin.
Maung Zarni, co-founder of FRC and FORSEA, said “three successive generations of Burmese generals and politicians have morphed into colonizers with brown faces, violating every pre-independence promise, signed agreement and written foundational Constitution of modern post-British Burma, while extracting rich resources and revenues and grabbing vast agricultural land from majority Burmese farmers and all minority regions – at gunpoint.”
This initiative will initially focus on displaced populations in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, South Sudan, DRC, Afghanistan, and the Rohingyas response in Bangladesh.
The United Kingdom (UK) has taken initiatives to double the impact of British people’s donations and ensure that UK charities working on the ground can reach even more people in need especially the global displaced population including Rohingyas.
The UK government will be matching the first £5 million ($6,249,375) of public donations to the Disaster Emergency Committee’s (a coalition of 14 UK charities) coronavirus appeal to help the more vulnerable countries and communities affected by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a message sent by British High Commission in Bangladesh on Tuesday.
Funds raised by this appeal will initially focus on displaced populations in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, South Sudan, DRC, Afghanistan, and the Rohingya influx response in Bangladesh, it said.
The Disaster Emergency Committee will use donations from the British public and UK aid to tackle coronavirus in refugee camps and save lives in developing countries.
The fund will be used by providing frontline doctors and aid workers with equipment and supplies to care for the vulnerable and sick, ensuring families get enough food to prevent malnutrition, particularly amongst children, and giving families clean water and soap, as well as information about the dangers of the disease.
The announcement takes the total amount of UK aid pledged to end the pandemic globally to £769 million ($962,022,845).
International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said they are matching generous donations from the British people to the emergency appeal pound for pound, meaning the money will go twice as far in helping to protect millions of the world’s most vulnerable people from the deadly effects of coronavirus.
The Malaysian authorities must immediately abandon plans to whip at least 20 Rohingya men who are being punished simply for trying to seek safety. The government should release all other jailed Rohingya refugees – including women and children – who have been unlawfully singled out, convicted and imprisoned for alleged “immigration offences,” which are contrary to international law, Amnesty International said today.
A Malaysian court has the authority to strike out a caning sentence against the Rohingya men in the coming days. The men, who were allowed to disembark from a boat along with hundreds of other people off the country’s coast in April, are part of a group of 31 Rohingya men convicted of so-called “offences” under the Immigration Act 1959/63 in June. All 31 men were sentenced to seven months in prison, with at least 20 of the group sentenced to three strokes of the cane.
The plan to viciously beat Rohingya refugees is not only cruel and inhuman – it’s unlawful under international standards
“The plan to viciously beat Rohingya refugees is not only cruel and inhuman – it’s unlawful under international standards. To inflict such a violent punishment as judicial caning amounts to torture,” said Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Malaysia Researcher at Amnesty International.
“The men who face violent lashings on top of jail terms have already fled persecution and crimes against humanity in Myanmar. They also survived a dangerous journey at sea to Malaysia in search of safety. The inhumanity of this approach is atrocious.”
Together with the men, nine women were also convicted to seven months jail on similar charges of entering and staying in Malaysia without a valid work permit. Fourteen children have been charged, and are also facing jail terms. Malaysia’s Immigration Act imposes six strokes of the cane, fines and up to five years’ imprisonment for people who are deemed to be in Malaysia irregularly. Amnesty International understands that the hundreds of others who disembarked from the boat in question are currently being held in immigration detention.
Entering or staying in a country irregularly – in other words, without the government’s permission – should never be considered criminal offences. Under international human rights law, the criminalization of irregular migration exceeds the legitimate interests of states in regulating migration to their territories. Furthermore, every person – regardless of their migration status – has the right to liberty, and no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. In any case, children should never be detained for immigration reasons under any circumstances, as it is never in their best interests.
Bangladesh has yet to decide on the relocation of more than 300 Rohingya refugees, including children, from Bhasan Char Island to the camps in Cox’s Bazar district, more than two months after they were quarantined there amid the nationwide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, officials told Arab News on Sunday.
“As of today, there is no decision of relocation the Rohingya to the mainland refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. The Rohingya are (being) taken care of by the Bangladesh Navy, and everything is going well over there,” Shah Rejoan Hayat, joint secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief (MDMR), said.
The Rohingya were rescued by the Bangladesh Navy on May 2 and sent to Bhasan Char after being stranded at sea for weeks following Malaysia’s decision to deny them entry due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
However, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Bangladesh to move the Rohingya from the “flood-prone island” in the Bay of Bengal, accusing officials of using the pandemic to “detain refugees” on Bhasan Char, which it says is extremely vulnerable to monsoon storms.
“Bangladesh authorities are using the pandemic as an excuse to detain refugees on a spit of land in the middle of a churning monsoon sea while their families anxiously pray for their return,” HRW said in a statement released on Thursday.
It added that the Bangladeshi government was “inexplicably delaying aid workers’ access to support the refugees with immediate care, and refusing for relocation them with their families in the Cox’s Bazar camps.”
According to HRW, the quarantined refugees “do not have access to food, clean drinking water or medical care,” while others have allegedly been “beaten up and mistreated by the authorities,” the statement said.
However, Bangladeshi authorities have rejected HRW’s claims, reasoning that the 308 refugees were sent to the island because authorities were afraid they might have contracted COVID-19.
“These Rohingya were denied access by Malaysia, Thailand and driven out from Myanmar. Bangladesh was kind enough to accept them on humanitarian grounds. So Bangladesh doesn’t deserve any criticism in this regard, it might be applicable for some other countries,” Mohammad Shamsuddoza, additional refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told Arab News.
Hayat said HRW’s concerns were unfounded because Bhasan Char, an artificial island completed in 2006, had been constructed to be protective.
“The Bangladesh Navy has a forward base over there and enough protective measures to ensure the safety of inhabitants on the island,” Hayat, who is also the chief of the MDMR’s refugee wing, said.
Malaysia criticism of Myanmar over the Rohingya issue has been vocal, especially in recent years. Government leaders have spoken out through different platforms, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
However, things have visibly changed in recent months, particularly following the Covid-19 pandemic. Kuala Lumpur has not only changed its tone but also its policy and actions toward the people it had stood up for. Its actions have indicated that Kuala Lumpur has transformed from being a vocal critic of violence against the Rohingya community to a country of refusal.
One important reason why Malaysia has been sympathetic to the cause of Rohingya is because of its shared beliefs in Islamic teachings. But it is intriguing as to why Malaysia has decided to change its perception toward the Rohingya whose fate is still very much precarious.
Of course, one widely reported reason is the fear of contracting Covid-19 through the refugee population.
Though it is not a signatory to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention, Malaysia has for years been one of the favourite destinations for Rohingya fleeing the oppression they are experiencing in Myanmar.
At the 34th Asean summit in Thailand last year, Malaysia strongly condemned violence against the Rohingya community. During a meeting with his Southeast Asian counterparts in Bangkok on June 22, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Bin Abdullah called for the “perpetrators of the Rohingya issue to be brought to justice”.
Earlier on Nov 13, 2018, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad slammed Myanmar and said, “It would seem that Aung San Suu Kyi is trying to defend what is indefensible… They are actually oppressing these people to the point of killing them, mass killing.”
During an interview with Anadolu Agency in July 2019, Dr Mohamad had also said, “They [the Rohingya] should either be treated as nationals, or they should be given their territory to form their own state… massacre or genocide is involved and Malaysia is against genocide and the unfair treatment of the citizens of Myanmar.”
Bangladesh authorities should immediately move over 300 Rohingya refugees, including at least 33 children, from the silt island of Bhasan Char to the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps to be with their families, Human Rights Watch said today. Despite pledges, the Bangladesh government has yet to allow United Nations officials to provide protection services and aid to the refugees detained on Bhasan Char, who had been stranded at sea for several weeks.
The authorities said that the rescued refugees needed to be temporarily quarantined on Bhasan Char to protect against the spread of Covid-19 in the crowded camps. However, more than two months later, the refugees remain on the island, at risk of flooding and storms during the current monsoon season, despite calls from UN Secretary-General António Guterres and humanitarian experts to safely return them to the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
“Bangladesh authorities are using the pandemic as an excuse to detain refugees on a spit of land in the middle of a churning monsoon sea while their families anxiously pray for their return,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The government is inexplicably delaying aid workers’ access to support the refugees with immediate care, and refusing to reunite them with their families in the Cox’s Bazar camps.”
Also Read This: No end in sight to the suffering of the Rohingya
Families in Cox’s Bazar told Human Rights Watch that relatives on Bhasan Char are being held without freedom of movement or adequate access to food or medical care, and face severe shortages of safe drinking water. Some refugees have alleged that they were beaten and ill-treated by Bangladesh authorities on the island.
Some families in Cox’s Bazar said that camp leaders told them that if they wanted to see their family members, they must join them on the island. One refugee in Cox’s Bazar told Human Rights Watch that a leader from his camp came and collected his personal information, saying that they needed it because his son is on Bhasan Char. “One of them visited my shelter and said I might need to go over there to join my son,” he said.
But he has serious concerns about going to Bhasan Char, even to see his son. “When I was last able to talk to my son, he complained about everything over there,” he said. “If we are forced to relocate there then there will be no option other than to flee from my shelter. My son even told me not to agree to their proposal at any cost.”
While the world has been in lockdown as a result of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), and the media focused on the economic and social effects of the pandemic, the Rohingya continue suffering under a ruthless regime in their homeland, Myanmar, and in cramped refugee camps in Bangladesh.
The coronavirus simply added to their existing misery. Even the risky prospect of attempting to escape on treacherous rough seas in search of a better life is no longer an option.
The coronavirus simply added to their existing misery. Even the risky prospect of attempting to escape on treacherous rough seas in search of a better life is no longer an option.
In a statement to the 44th session of the Human Rights Council last week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Michelle Bachelet said: “The Rohingya refugee crisis has effectively become protracted, with no solution in sight.”
The human rights situation the Rohingya are facing in Rakhine State, Myanmar, has not improved, and the conditions required for their safe, dignified and sustainable return home from Bangladesh are not in place, she added. In addition, restrictions placed on humanitarian access and freedom of movement as a result of the pandemic have exacerbated the situation.
Hundreds of people have attempted to escape to other nations in rickety boats, only to be turned away by authorities in destination countries out of fear that the refugees might spread the coronavirus, leaving them stranded at sea for months.
Also Read This: Bangladesh claims COVID-19 outbreak contained in Rohingya camps
In the squalid refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, meanwhile, the threat posed by the virus is increased by the unsanitary and overcrowded living conditions. Social distancing is almost impossible. Families live at close quarters in flimsy bamboo shacks. They have to use communal toilets and water facilities that are not always clean or available. Even the most basic items, such as soap, are scarce.
In other words, the Rohingya are doomed wherever they go.
While the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is working in the camps to protect people from COVID-19 and treat the infected, an internet ban imposed by the Bangladeshi government “for security reasons” has added to the distress of refugees. It has left them cut off from the outside world with no access to news or reliable information about the pandemic. As a result, rumors spread quickly.
The rising number of confirmed cases is putting growing pressure on the UN refugee agency’s ability to provide enough equipment and isolation facilities, medication, food and water, and to conduct medical tests. It is running out of funding and human resources.
A coronavirus outbreak among Rohingya refugees has been “successfully contained,” Bangladesh officials have said after fears that the disease spread rapidly in overcrowded camps.
Nearly 1 million Rohingya live in squalid camps in southeastern Bangladesh after fleeing a 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar, where the mostly Muslim community is a minority. Some 724 Rohingya have been tested in the Bangladesh camps, with 54 found positive since the first cases were detected in May, officials said.
“We have successfully contained the outbreak,” Bangladesh refugee commissioner Mahbub Alam Talukder told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Monday, adding that only five Rohingya have died from the virus so far.
It was not clear, however, if some Rohingya avoided testing because of fears they would be moved to an isolated and flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal, where other refugees were taken to after being found at sea.
Also Read More: Japan’s Kirin should stop supporting Myanmar military
In contrast, there have been more than 2,776 confirmed infections including 60 deaths among the 2.4 million Bangladeshis living in the wider Cox’s Bazar district, where the camps are located, Talukder said.
The three dozen camps were locked down after the first few cases were found, with refugees barred from leaving the area.
Officials used loudhailers to tell residents to wash their hands, stay indoors and wear a mask if they were in public spaces, said Rohingya teacher Mohammad Shafi, who lives in the Kutupalong shelter, the world’s biggest refugee camp.
Authorities distributed soap among the refugees, shut most shops and restricted the number of aid workers allowed to enter the camps, he added.
“A lot of people suffered from seasonal flu, headaches, body pain and diarrhea in recent weeks,” Shafi told AFP.