A top UN official has urged Bangladesh to let two stranded boats with Rohingya refugees on board land amid mounting fears over their fate.
On Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned of a “human tragedy of terrible proportions” unless action is taken to help the Rohingya on the boats.
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“In a spirit of solidarity and at the beginning of the Holy Month of Ramadan, I appeal to you in the strongest terms to open your ports and allow the boats to land,” Bachelet said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by AFP news agency.
“The reportedly more than 500 men, women and children aboard these boats have been at sea for an extended period of time, and we understand that they require urgent rescue, food, medical care and other necessary humanitarian assistance.”
The appeal was made to the Bangladesh government after Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said the South Asian country would not accept the boats.
His declaration last week raised alarm as it came only days after dozens of Rohingya died on a boat that waited at sea for two months before it could land.
The two new boats are believed to be in international waters hoping to get an opportunity to reach Malaysia.
The Malaysian navy turned back one boat last week and has increased patrols as it expects increased attempts to smuggle people into the country.
There are a million Rohingya in camps in Bangladesh, where they found shelter after fleeing a military crackdown in their native Myanmar in 2018.
Bachelet said “dangerous interception practices and collective expulsions, including pushing back boats that are trying to land, must be scrupulously avoided”.
The Bangladesh government is yet to respond.
A coast guard spokesman said no boat had been spotted since the rescue of a trawler carrying 396 starving refugees on April 15. At least 60 people died on the boat.
Bangladesh vessels and helicopters have conducted a “huge search” in the Bay of Bengal over 10 days for the two new boats, Lieutenant Commander Hamidul Islam told AFP.