UNHCR Lauds Malaysia for Rescuing Myanmar Persons from Sinking Boat

Malaysia for Rescuing Myanmar Persons from Sinking Boat

Kuala Lumpur, 11 March (UNHCR) - UNHCR lauds the decision made by the Malaysian Government to rescue some 136 Myanmar people from a sinking boat and allowing them to disembark on its territory, yesterday.

“We consider this a very positive humanitarian gesture on the part of the Malaysian Government, and consistent with international norms for the protection of asylum-seekers and persons at risk at sea,” said Alan Vernon, UNHCR Representative.

According to news reports, some 136 persons from Myanmar were found by fishermen several miles from Teluk Bahang, Penang, adrift in a boat on the verge of sinking. They were reported to have been at sea for 25 days, and had run out of food and water for more than two days. The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency intercepted the boat and rescued the passengers.

They are believed to be of Rohingya ethnicity, and could be in need of international protection.

“UNHCR commends the decision made by Malaysia to allow safe disembarkation for this group from their sinking boat, and providing them food and medical attention,” said Vernon. “This quick action undoubtedly saved dozens of lives who would have otherwise perished at sea.”

“As per standard practice, UNHCR has made a request to be given access to the group in order to verify their refugee status, and to determine if they are of concern to UNHCR and in need of international protection.

We look forward to getting access to this group and others from Myanmar who have newly arrived to Malaysia by boats, and securing their release.”

According to reports, some 11 boats carrying some 2,500 persons from Myanmar have landed on Malaysian territory since the beginning of this year. They are believed to be mostly persons of Rohingya ethnicity, who made the dangerous boat journey across the Indian Ocean to flee violence in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine.

Based on media and other accounts, regionally almost 500 people perished at sea during 2012 after their boats broke down or capsized - making the Indian Ocean one of the deadliest regions in the world for people fleeing their country by boat or being trafficked by smugglers.

On 26 February, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres reiterated his call for countries in the Asia Pacific region to work together to tackle the increase in lives being lost among people smuggled by boat in the Indian Ocean.

“This is an alarmingly high number of lives lost, and begs a far more concerted effort by countries of the region both with regard to addressing the causes and to preventing lives being lost,” Guterres said. “Push-backs, denial of disembarkation, and boats adrift for weeks will not solve a regional problem that clearly needs better, more joined-up, and more compassionate approaches by everyone. UNHCR is offering its expertise to help find answers.”

UNHCR will be facilitating a regional meeting in mid-March in Indonesia on irregular movements by sea in the Asia-Pacific.

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