Bangladesh is under “no obligation” to shelter 81 Rohingya Muslim refugees moving from pillar to post for about two weeks on the Andaman Sea, assisted by neighbouring India, Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told news agency Reuters yesterday.
The Coast Guards of India found the 81 survivors and eight dead crammed onto a nearly wrecked fishing boat. The coast guards tried to arrange their entry into Bangladesh, Indian officials said on Friday.
Momen said late on Friday that Bangladesh expected India, the closest neighbour — or Rohingyas’ country of origin Myanmar — to accept them. “They are not Bangladesh nationals and, in fact, they are Myanmar nationals. They were found 1,700 km (1,100 miles) away from the Bangladesh maritime territory and therefore, we have no obligation to take them,” said Momen, who is in the US.
“They were located 147 km away from Indian territory, 324 km away from Myanmar,” he said over the phone. The Bangladeshi minister said other countries and organisations should take care of the Rohingya people.
While the Indian foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment, Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Anurag Srivastava had said the day before yesterday that India was “in discussions with the Government of Bangladesh to ensure their safe and secure repatriation”.
The MEA did not respond to requests for comment on whether it would accept the refugees onto Indian soil.
One senior Indian official, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to news media, said India planned to help the refugees with food and water, but it was not planning to take them ashore.
New Delhi neither signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, which spells out refugee rights and state responsibilities to protect them, nor does it have a law protecting refugees, though it currently hosts more than 2,00,000, including some Rohingya.
More than 1 million Rohingya refugees from predominantly Buddhist Myanmar — now under military rule — are living in teeming camps in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, including tens of thousands who fled after Myanmar`s military conducted a deadly crackdown in 2017.
Traffickers often lure Rohingya refugees with promises of work in Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia.
The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, expressed alarm this week over the missing boat.
India on Thursday said around 47 of the occupants of the boat are in possession of ID cards issued to them by the UNHCR office in Bangladesh, stating that they are displaced Myanmar nationals.
No global contract to shelter Rohingya refugees
The refugees have been drifting in international waters after leaving southern Bangladesh on Feb. 11 in the hope of reaching Malaysia.
On Saturday, they were under the aid and surveillance of India as officials were holding talks to return them to Bangladesh, said the senior Indian official who is not authorised to speak to the media.
The boat, which sailed from the massive Cox`s Bazar refugee camp, was carrying 56 women, eight girls, 21 men and five boys.
Many of the survivors, according to Indian officials, were sick and suffering from extreme dehydration, having run out of food and water after the boat`s engine failed four days into their journey.
“Has Bangladesh been given the global contract and responsibility to take and rehabilitate all the Rohingya or boat people of the world?” Momen said. “No, not at all.”
Momen said the UNHCR should also take responsibility as many people on the boat hold ID cards from the UNHCR office in Bangladesh.
“If (the refugees) are UNHCR card holders, why did they allow traffickers to take their card holders to adrift on the high sea leading to death?”
UNHCR officials were not immediately reachable for comment.