In a desperate bid to save the lives of hundreds of Rohingyas, who are quite literally at sea during the testing times of Covid-19 pandemic, the European Union (EU) has urged all the governments in the region to conduct rescue operations and save them at the earliest.
Several hundreds of Rohingya people, including women and children, have been drifting for weeks at sea in appalling conditions, being pushed away from the shores in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.
"The European Union urges the governments in the region to conduct a search and rescue operation and to find a solution for their safe disembarkation. Bangladesh granted safe landing and assistance to 400 Rohingya on one of the boats on 16 April 2020, showing continued generosity and humanity. We hope that countries in the region will follow this example," EU Vice President Josep Borrell and Commissioner Janez Lenarcic said in a joint statement.
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Commenting further on the situation of the Rohingya people in the waters of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, the EU had a word of advice for Myanmar too.
"The EU urges all armed forces in Myanmar to urgently implement an unconditional ceasefire and recommit to an all-inclusive peace process. This would help addressing the root causes of the plight of the Rohingya. The EU is a key humanitarian and development donor for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and stands ready to provide further support in the region. We continue to advocate for the safe, sustainable, dignified, and voluntary return of the Rohingya refugees to their places of origin and for ensuring full accountability for the crimes committed against them," opined Borrell and Lenarcic.
Since 2017, the European Union has provided over €140 million in aid to respond to the Rohingya crisis both in Myanmar and in Bangladesh. This includes basic humanitarian assistance for Rohingya populations (both for those who have been living in displacement in Bangladesh for many years, and for the newly arrived), and host communities living close to the refugee settlements. The EU provides shelters, health care, water and sanitation support, nutrition assistance, education, and protection services.
About two weeks ago, the United Nations' human rights office (OHCHR), called for compassion for people desperately seeking shelter, after 30 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar died on a boat in the Bay of Bengal that had spent nearly two months at sea.
“Whatever efforts are taken to combat people-smuggling, this should be a time for compassion towards those in desperate need of assistance and protection," said OHCHR Spokesperson Richard Colville as reports of vessels stranded in sea kept trickling in.
The UN had urged countries to step-up timely search and rescue efforts and countries were reminded that any response should be based on international human rights and refugee law, and to avoid “dangerous interception practices”, such as preventing boats from landing..