UNITED NATIONS – UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki- moon said Sunday that he was “increasingly concerned about the plight of migrants and refugees stranded in the Andaman Sea and Straits of Malacca”, reports China’s Xinhua news agency.
Abandoned at sea, thousands of Bangladeshis and members of Myanmar’s long-persecuted Rohingya Muslim-minority appeared Wednesday to have no place to go after two Southeast Asian countries refused to offer refuge to boatloads of hungry men, women and children.
Smugglers have fled wooden trawlers in recent days as fears grew of a massive regional crackdown on human trafficking syndicates, leaving the migrants to fend for themselves.
The United Nations 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.
In recent days, the secretary-general has spoken to Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Ban’s spokesman said in a statement.
The UN deputy secretary-general, Jan Eliasson, has also spoken to the foreign minister of Bangladesh, Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali, and the deputy minister for multilateral affairs of Indonesia, Hasan Kleib, the statement said.
“In their discussions with leaders in the region, they reiterated the need to protect lives and uphold international law, ” the statement said.
“Furthermore, they stressed the need for the timely disembarkation of migrants,” the statement said. “They urged leaders to uphold the obligation of rescue at sea and maintain the prohibition on refoulement.”
The UN chief and his deputy encouraged leaders to participate in the upcoming regional meeting in Bangkok on the migrant situation. They hope that the meeting will lead to comprehensive outcomes at the regional and international levels, said the statement.
The United Nations stands ready to assist all efforts to address the situation, including at the proposed meeting, it added.
With thousands more believed to be in the busy Malacca Strait and nearby waters — some stranded for more than two months — activists believe many more boats will try to reach land in the coming days and weeks.
Those aboard one boat several kilometers off Malaysia’s Langkawi Island said after four days without food or water, they needed to be rescued, reports said.
They reported seeing a patrol boat with flashing lights approach late Tuesday, and then slowly passed them by.
That has sparked one of the biggest exoduses of boat people the region has seen since the Vietnam War, with an estimated 100,000 men, women and children boarding ships in search of better lives in other countries since June 2012, according to the UN refugee agency.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is alarmed at these reports. “This is a cross-border challenge that no country can resolve single-handedly. That’s why it’s imperative that countries in the region work together to share this responsibility,” news reports quoted a UNHCR official as saying.