DHAKA: A top UN official has urged Bangladesh to let two stranded boatloads of starving Rohingya Muslims land amid mounting fears Monday over the fate of the refugees.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned of a “human tragedy of terrible proportions” unless action is taken to help the Rohingya.
The appeal was made to the Bangladesh government after Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said the South Asian country would not accept the boats.
His declaration last week set alarm bells ringing as it came only days after dozens of Rohingya died on a boat that waited at sea for two months before it could land.
The two new boats are believed to be in international waters hoping to get an opportunity to reach Malaysia.
The Malaysian navy rebuffed one boat last week and has increased patrols as it expects increased attempts to smuggle people into the country.
The one million Rohingya in camps in Bangladesh, where they fled a military crackdown in their native Myanmar, favour going to Malaysia as it is Muslim majority country with more work opportunities.
“In a spirit of solidarity and at the beginning of the Holy Month of Ramadan, I appeal to you in the strongest terms to open your ports and allow the boats to land,” Bachelet said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained copy by AFP.
“The reportedly more than 500 men, women and children aboard these boats have been at sea for an extended period of time, and we understand that they require urgent rescue, food, medical care and other necessary humanitarian assistance.”
Bachelet said “dangerous interception practices and collective expulsions, including pushing back boats that are trying to land, must be scrupulously avoided”.
The government did not immediately respond.
A coast guard spokesman said no boat had been spotted since the rescued of a trawler carrying 396 starving refugees on April 15. At least 60 people died on the boat.
Bangladesh vessels and helicopters have conducted a “huge search” in the Bay of Bengal over 10 days for the two new boats, Lieutenant Commander Hamidul Islam told AFP.
The foreign minister said last Thursday that the navy and coast guard had been ordered “not to let these boats enter Bangladesh”.
Thousands of refugees died in the Andaman Sea in 2015 on rickety fishing vessels that tried to reach Malaysia and Thailand.
Amnesty International says it believes there could be “at least three boats in the high seas” stranded for several weeks “without food and water, at high risk of death”.