Ethnic Rohingya people rest after the boat carrying them landed in Lhokseumawe, Aceh province, Indonesia. AP Photo
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has welcomed the life-saving disembarkation of approximately 300 Rohingya refugees off the northern coast of Aceh, Indonesia early Monday.
Having survived some seven months at sea in desperate conditions, an unknown number are in need of medical attention, said the UN agency.
Among the group, 2 of 3 are women and children. Over 30 are estimated to have died en route, said UNHCR Director for Asia and the Pacific, Indrika Ratwatte.
Approximately 330 Rohingya refugees are understood to have embarked on the journey in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh in February, said Indrika Ratwatte.
Their hazardous ordeal has been prolonged by the collective unwillingness of states to act for more than six months.
Equally, the Bali Process, as the only existing regional coordination mechanism able to convene states on such maritime movements, has failed to deliver comprehensive, regional action to predictably save lives through rescue and disembarkation.
The group had repeatedly tried to disembark over the course of more than 200 days at sea, to no avail. Refugees have reported that dozens passed away throughout the journey.
UNHCR and others have repeatedly warned of dire consequences if refugees at sea are not permitted to land in a safe and expedient manner. Ultimately, inaction over the past six months has been fatal.
UNHCR staff in Aceh are supporting local authorities to assess the needs of the refugees.
The immediate priority is providing first aid and medical care as required. All will be tested for COVID-19 in accordance with standard health measures in Indonesia for all arrivals.
At the time of the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal crisis 5 years ago, Bali Process states acknowledged the need for a reliable and collective response to this genuinely regional challenge.
Having created a mechanism to convene governments from across the region for precisely this purpose, the promise of that commitment remains unfulfilled.
A comprehensive and fair response necessarily requires responsibility-sharing and concrete efforts across South East Asia, so that those who permit disembarkation and bring those in distress ashore do not carry a disproportionate burden.