Thursday, November 15, 2012

UNHCR calls for SE Asian neighbors to accept Burma’s boatpeople

Thursday, 15 November 2012 14:35 Mizzima News

The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a statement on Tuesday calling on Burma’s neighbors to open their borders to boatpeople fleeing violence in Rakhine State.

And in a separate development, a group of 38 Kachin refugees who were resettled in Romania have sought asylum in Denmark claiming they were forced to live in squalor in Romania.

With regard to Burma’s boatpeople, UNHCR “called on countries in South-East Asia to keep their borders open to people fleeing Myanmar by sea, following reports of boats sinking in the Bay of Bengal this month with scores of people on board.

“UNHCR also urged the Myanmar government to address this problem of displacement,” the statement said.

“In the last two weeks, there have been reports of two boats sinking off western Myanmar with an estimated 240 people on board, among them Rohingya from Myanmar's Rakhine state,” the UNHCR statement said.

UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told journalists in Geneva that the UN was “seriously concerned” at the recent boat tragedies in the Bay of Bengal involving people fleeing insecurity and violence in Burma.

“UNHCR cannot confirm the figures as we have no presence near the wreck sites, but available information is that more than 40 people have been rescued from the two boats. There were reports of bodies seen floating in the water,” Fleming said.

She said these two incidents marked an "alarming" start to the traditional “sailing season” in the Bay of Bengal, when a mix of asylum-seekers and irregular migrants risk their lives on fishing boats in the hope of finding safety and a better life elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people set out into the Bay of Bengal from Burma during the previous sailing season from October 2011 to March 2012, the UN agency said, and there are fears many more could follow in the coming weeks, driven by desperation and hopelessness.

“UNHCR is urging the government of Myanmar to take urgent action to address some of the main push factors, especially issues connected with the problem of citizenship and statelessness in relation to the Rohingyas," Fleming said.

While calling on other states to keep their borders open, UNHCR said it was alarmed by reports of countries either pushing back boats from their shores or helping them on to another country. “We are appealing to these governments to uphold their long tradition of providing humanitarian aid to refugees instead of shifting the responsibility to another state,” Fleming stressed.

Meanwhile, also on November 13, a group of 38 Kachin refugees issued a statement saying that they had been resettled in Romania through the UNHCR in Malaysia, only to find themselves living in squalor and without any hope of progress.

When we arrived in Romania in June 2010, we were only allowed to stay in a small room at the asylum-seekers’ center which was like a prison, the 38 Kachins said. We were not given any food, clothes, support money or medication, and had to borrow cooking materials, blankets and other things like buckets, they said.

“We could not find any jobs in Romania. We lost not only our rights, but we also lost all hope of a future in Romania,” the statement said.

The resettled Kachins have now moved to Copenhagen and are calling on the Danish authorities to allow them to live in Denmark on humanitarian grounds.

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