UNHCR Statement on the Evolving Humanitarian Crisis Regarding Boat Arrivals in Malaysia

Statement Attributable to UNHCR Spokesperson in Malaysia

18 May 2015

UNHCR is deeply concerned about the continuing humanitarian crisis involving the arrival of boats to Malaysia and other countries in the region, carrying Rohingyas from Myanmar and Bangladeshi nationals. Over the last week, alarming unconfirmed reports emerged suggesting that boats carrying vulnerable people from Myanmar and Bangladesh have been pushed away, raising concern for the welfare of the men, women, and children on board who may be in need of urgent medical and welfare assistance.

UNHCR is appreciative that over 1,100 persons have been permitted to disembark on Malaysian territory, and are now being held at the Immigration Department detention centres.

UNHCR has offered its assistance to the Government in its efforts to support those arrived. This includes medical and other provisions, and technical advice on how to process the group.

UNHCR has also offered its expertise in interviewing the different groups to determine who are in need of international protection, and who are not, as those being rescued are likely to be a mix of refugees and economic migrants.

UNHCR understands that the group includes some 700 persons from Bangladesh who may not need refugee protection and who, with the cooperation of their Government, may be able to return home without delay.

UNHCR’s concern is for the relatively small number of Rohingyas from Myanmar in the group, who are likely to need international protection and cannot be returned to Myanmar.

At this time, UNHCR has not received a formal response from the Government asking it to participate in any operational way, but stands ready to do so if required.

As it has done for many years, UNHCR will support the Malaysian Government in conducting all matters related to the processing of refugees, including registration and status determination, and providing welfare assistance including health, education, and other social support. Since 2005, UNHCR has facilitated the resettlement of over 100,000 refugees from Malaysia to third countries. It stands ready to continue supporting the Malaysian Government in managing this current humanitarian crisis.

Clearly, this serious humanitarian crisis requires a comprehensive regional response, which UNHCR fully supports. Efforts must be directed towards finding and disrupting the networks of unscrupulous smuggling and trafficking agents, and also to giving life-saving protection to their victims at sea.

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