Bangladesh will not allow hundreds of Rohingya stranded at the sea in two trawlers off its southeastern coast to come ashore, the foreign minister said Thursday, despite calls by the United Nations and human rights groups to take in the refugees.
The boats carrying some 500 refugees were spotted by local fishermen on Tuesday in the Bay of Bengal near Cox’s Bazar district, Amnesty International reported Wednesday. An area border-police commander said then that patrols were being stepped up to watch out for the two trawlers heading toward the district’s coast.
“I am opposed to allowing these Rohingya into the country because Bangladesh is always asked to take care of the responsibility of other countries,” Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen told BenarNews Thursday night. “We can no longer allow [in] any Rohingya.
“Previously, we accepted a batch of Rohingya who were caught in the Bay of Bengal. Now, more boats are waiting to enter Bangladesh,” he said.
He said international groups always turned to Bangladesh to shelter, protect and care for Rohingya. More than 1 million stateless Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are sheltering in sprawling camps and settlements in Cox’s Bazar.
A local coast guard commander echoed the minister’s message.
“Our position is clear: Not a single Rohingya will be allowed to enter. Any trawler carrying Rohingya that tries to enter Bangladesh will be resisted,” Lt. Cmdr. M. Saiful Islam, staff officer of the Coast Guard’s Chittagong East Zone, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
About 740,000 Rohingya fled to camps in and around Cox’s Bazar from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, beginning in August 2017, after the Myanmar military launched a brutal offensive in response to deadly attacks by a rebel group on government security posts. They joined hundreds of thousands of other Rohingya who had previously fled cycles of violence in Myanmar.
Momen, the foreign minister, pointed out that Bangladesh now had to deal with welcoming back thousands of expatriates who had returned home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So, we have no room to shelter any foreign people or refugees,” he said.
On Thursday, UNHCR, the U.N.’s refugee agency, joined Amnesty International in calling on countries to welcome in Rohingya refugees.
“In the context of the unprecedented current COVID-19 crisis, all states must manage their borders as they see fit. But such measures should not result in the closure of avenues to asylum, or of forcing people to return to situations of danger,” UNHCR said in a statement on its website.
Malaysian official speaks out
In Malaysia, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said his country should not turn away Rohingya arriving by boat, according to Kuala Lumpur media.
Reports have surfaced that the two trawlers spotted in the Bay of Bengal and a trawler carrying starving Rohingya that arrived in Bangladesh last week had tried to sail into Malaysia but were forced to leave.
“As we guard our borders, we cannot let people die, moreover they are the victims of tyranny by their own government,” Anwar said, referring to the Rohingya. “I hope the government will consider keeping them in the form of limited controls but not evict them, leaving them to drown or leave them starving,” he said.
Southeast Asia-based NGO Fortify Rights issued a similar call last week after reports about Malaysia’s action.
“Sending an ill-equipped ship of refugees out to sea is unlawful and a death sentence,” Matthew Smith, the NGO’s chief executive officer, said in a news release on April 17. “The Malaysian government should investigate who ordered this Rohingya ship back out to sea and urgently authorize search and rescue missions for any additional boats in distress. COVID-19 is no excuse to send refugees to death at sea.”
In Cox’s Bazar, a Rohingya leader expressed hope that Bangladesh’s government would allow the refugees on the boats to land in the district.
“We are grateful to Bangladesh that they have sheltered us. People will be happy if these people at sea are allowed to come to Bangladesh,” Mohammad Shah Alam, a Rohingya leader at Kutupalong refugee camp, told BenarNews.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.