UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said he was appalled at reports that Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia had been pushing boats full of migrants back out to sea, which he added would inevitably lead to many avoidable deaths.
"The focus should be on saving lives, not further endangering them,” he said, adding that news that a boat, carrying several hundred people in abject condition, had been given provisions and then pushed back out to sea by the Thai navy on Thursday was “incomprehensible and inhumane”.
“Governments in Southeast Asia need to respond to this crisis from the premise that migrants – regardless of their legal status, how they arrive at borders, or where they come from – are people with rights that must be upheld,” he said.
Zeid said the number of people leaving Myanmar and Bangladesh by boat last year was estimated to have climbed to around 53,000.
Some 920 migrants, he added, were known to have perished in the Bay of Bengal between September 2014 and March this year.
“They have been predominantly Rohingya fleeing persecution from Rakhine state in Myanmar, with increasing numbers of impoverished Bangladeshi migrants taking to the seas over the last year.
“Until the Myanmar government addresses the institutional discrimination against the Rohingya population, including equal access to citizenship, this precarious migration will continue,” Zeid said.
For the regional meeting that will be hosted by Thailand on irregular migration in the Indian Ocean on May 29, Zeid urged the participating governments to ensure that their responses would be based on international human rights and refugee laws.
“This is a complex and multi-dimensional issue requiring a holistic response,” he said, adding that a coherent, human rights-based regional response was urgently needed.
On Sunday, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said that he was “increasingly concerned” about the plight of migrants and refugees stranded in the Andaman Sea and Strait of Malacca.
UN had also pleaded for countries in the region to keep their borders open and help rescue those stranded, while some parliamentarians slammed the "not-in-my-backyard" attitude. – May 18, 2015.- See more at: http://www.