Philippines offers shelter to migrants (The New Nation (Bangladesh))

The four organisations of the United Nations on Tuesday issued a joint statement, strongly urging the leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to protect migrants and refugees stranded on vessels in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, to facilitate safe disembarkation, and to give priority to saving lives.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children (SRSG) made the call to leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.

“We strongly urge leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, to protect migrants and refugees stranded on vessels in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, to facilitate safe disembarkation, and to give priority to saving lives, protecting rights, and respecting human dignity, the statement read. It said, “We are deeply concerned at reports that boats are full of vulnerable women, men and children are unable to land and are stranded at sea without access to urgently needed food, water, and medical assistance.

We urge States in the region to protect the lives of all aboard by allowing the passengers on these overcrowded boats to disembark safely. “The UN bodies urgently called upon leaders to “make saving lives the top priority” by significantly strengthening search and rescue operations, stopping boat push-backs and measures, helping boats to leave territorial waters, while ensuring that all measures taken are in strict line with human rights standards.

They also requested to provide effective, predictable disembarkation to a place of safety with adequate and humane reception conditions, avoiding the use of immigration detention and other punitive measures, and ensure that the human rights of all migrants and refugees are protected, and that all actions in regard to children are guided by the best interests of the child. The statement urged to expand avenues for safe and legal migration and efforts to prosecute traffickers and smugglers for their crimes in full accordance with international standards for human rights.

It also mentioned urging to redouble efforts, nationally and through stronger international cooperation, to address ‘push factors’ and the root causes of refugee and migrants flows, including discrimination, deprivation, persecution, and violations of human rights. It further appealed to put in place dedicated measures to combat xenophobia and discrimination against any group on the basis of race, sex, language, religion, ethnicity, nationality and national origin, or other status.

Meanwhile, the Philippines has signalled it is ready to take in thousands of migrants who are stranded on Asia’s seas, the first country to offer shelter after its south-east Asian neighbours blocked them from entering, according to The Guardian newspaper report on Tuesday. Manila, a signatory to the United Nation’s Refugee Convention, said it would help as it denied a local report claiming that the Philippines planned to push back boats carrying some 8,000 people fleeing persecution in Burma and poverty in Bangladesh.

“The Philippines has extended humanitarian assistance to. . . ‘boat people’ and had even established a processing centre for Vietnamese travellers in the 70s, said Herminio Coloma, a spokesman for the president, Benigno Aquino. “We shall continue to do our share in saving lives under existing and long-standing mechanisms pursuant to our commitments under the UN convention.

“It would be a long and unlikely journey for the migrants – who are believed to be in the region of the Andaman Sea – to make it to the Philippines on their rickety boats with little food and fuel. However, the statement raised hopes for a breakthrough in the crisis in which nearly 3,000 refugees and migrants from Burma’s persecuted Rohingya minority group and Bangladesh were rescued off Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. “It is a hopeful sign. We hope the governments in the region would lift their game as well, said an International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesman, Joe Lowry.

“We have been saying for 10 days now [that the governments should allow migrants to land]. We don’t know how many people have perished now. “Nearly 4,000 people from Myanmar and Bangladesh remain stranded at sea with dwindling supplies on board, said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards on Tuesday. “This includes some 2,000 men, women and children stranded on at least five boats near the Myanmar-Bangladesh coasts for more than 40 days, Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday.

Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand have turned away boats, despite the UN’s warning against “floating coffins” in the region’s seas. In the meantime, Burma’s main opposition party, led by the Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has finally broken silence on the issue of the Rohingya saying the Muslims fleeing dire conditions in Burma are entitled to “human rights”.

“If they are not accepted [as citizens], they cannot just be sent on to rivers; can’t be pushed out to sea, said Nyan Win, a spokesman from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party on Monday.