Jesuit Refugee Service Australia has called on Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia to immediately rescue the Rohingya asylum seekers stranded off their coastlines. Head of Advocacy and Policy at JRS, Oliver White, says in the following statement that it is also essential that the Australian government work with ASEAN countries to find a solution to the region’s refugee crisis.
Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia must immediately stop pushing boats back to sea and launch a joint search and rescue mission that allows boats to land and passengers to disembark. Governments must share information and resources to locate all stranded boats, tow them to safety, and assist with disembarkation.
Humanitarian assistance must be provided in order to save the lives of people who have been stranded at sea for months, many of them starving and in need or urgent medical care. Once immediate health needs have been addressed, passengers should be given access to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) and permitted to have their claims for protection assessed in a fair and transparent manner.
“Australia can contribute to this effort by providing logistical, financial and humanitarian assistance. This is an opportunity for Australia to show the region it is genuinely committed to ‘saving lives at sea’; not only by addressing human smuggling, but by providing lifesaving assistance to refugees drifting at sea and with nowhere else to go,” says Oliver White, Head of Policy and Advocacy at JRS.
“Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s comments in support of South East Asian countries pushing back boats are deeply unhelpful. Whilst not the direct cause of this current crisis, Australia’s push back policy has set a dangerous precedent in the region. If South East Asian countries heed Tony Abbott’s advice, then the Rohingya – who cannot be returned to Myanmar – will starve and die at sea. Rather than encouraging its neighbours to wash their hands of their responsibility to protect, Australia should be working in collaboration with ASEAN to find a solution.”
Once an appropriate rescue mission has been achieved, countries in the region must come together to find a long-term regional solution to this crisis. JRS welcomes Thailand’s offer to host a regional summit on the Rohingya at the end of May. JRS urges ASEAN countries at this meeting to abandon their policy of non-interference and hold Myanmar to account. The persecution of Rohingya must stop and their full rights as citizens of Myanmar must be realised.
JRS also urges countries at this meeting to develop a standardised system of protection – one which is underpinned by principles of compassion and justice and which ensures more equitable responsibility-sharing for states and enhanced protection for all refugees transiting through the Asia Pacific region.
“In the same way that Indo-Chinese refugees fleeing in large numbers in the 80s triggered a regional response to a humanitarian crisis, so too should the mass exodus of Rohingya be the crisis that brings countries together today to address root causes of displacement and provide humanitarian assistance and protection to refugees and other forced migrants,” says Mr. White.
JRS welcomes and applauds the response of local communities and members of civil society who are not waiting for their governments to act but are taking it upon themselves to respond as best they can to this unfolding humanitarian crisis. However, with an estimated 6000 to 8000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants stranded at sea, a joint government humanitarian response is required and a commitment to finding long-term solutions for a group of people disregarded by the world.
“Pushing boats out to sea does not solve the issue of forced migration but diverts the problem elsewhere. In the past, such a practice might have had the desired effect of ensuring the issue stayed ‘out of sight and out of mind’; in this instance the entire world is now watching. ASEAN must consider how it wants to be perceived: do its member countries care about the plight of their neighbours, countries that value compassion, hospitality and dignity of all people – or are they happy to turn their backs on the cries of the world’s most desperate and vulnerable?”
“Countries in the Asia Pacific region must bring an end to the fortress mentality that prevents even the most vulnerable from reaching refuge and safety. These people are in need of compassion and hospitality – values deeply embedded in the cultures, societies and religions of ASEAN countries.”
For further information contact:
Head of Policy and Advocacy
Jesuit Refugee Service Australia
Tel: +61 2 9356 3888