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As UNSC member, Malaysia legally required to rescue Rohingya refugees, claims DAP MP

A Rohingya child, who recently arrived in Indonesia by boat, is measured and weighed at a shelter in Kuala Langsa, in Indonesia's Aceh Province, May 17, 2015. — Reuters pic

May 18, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia may not recognise refugees, but as a member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), it is required by international law to rescue the thousands of Rohingya refugees currently stranded at sea, a DAP lawmaker said.

According to Klang MP Charles Santiago, Malaysia’s role in the UNSC compels it to uphold the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) through Resolution 1674 (Para 139), which means the country must accept all Rohingya refugees, regardless whether they are facing death at sea.

“This is mandatory under the international law of non-refoulement,” Santiago said in a statement here.

“Asean (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) can no longer hang on to the belief of non-interference, not when there is a clear and present danger to humanity.

“This law dictates that no country should return refugees to places where they are persecuted or subjected to danger,” he added.

Santiago claimed the Malaysian government has “craftily” avoided adhering to international maritime law that says the country is legally reguired to rescue people in distress at sea, by translating “distress” to mean “sinking boats and drowning people”.

But the lawmaker pointed out to the federal government that many reports have claimed that the refugees are in dire straits, with some reports claiming that at least 10 have died, while some are forced to drink their urine.

“It cannot get any worse than this, with the exception of dead bodies reaching our shores,” he said.

Santiago said it is clear that the boat people are victims of human trafficking, and were abandoned at sea by the traffickers, following the massive crackdown on the activity in Thailand.

“It’s sad that we need to leverage upon existing legislation to compel a government to act with a conscience.

“But just as the Rohingya Muslims are left with no choice but to flee, we are left with no choice but to get Malaysia to act by the book now, to save the lives of thousands of Rohingya refugees,” he said.

Over 1,000 Bangladeshi migrants and Rohingya refugees landed in Langkawi on May 10 and were subsequently sent to the Belantik detention centre in Kedah.

Migrant activists estimate that some 8,000 Bangladeshi and Rohingya remain stranded at sea after people smugglers abandoned ship following a Thai crackdown on human trafficking.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement on May 8 that some 25,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis boarded smugglers’ boats between January and March this year, almost double the number over the same period last year.

International newswire AFP reported yesterday diplomats and analysts as saying that Asean’s pledge of non-interference and its failure to curb Myanmar’s systematic abuse of the Rohingya — who suffer state-sanctioned discrimination and are denied citizenship despite having lived in Myanmar for generations — have contributed to the migrant crisis in the region.

Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia have been turning away boats of migrants back out to sea as the International Organisation of Migration reportedly criticised the Southeast Asian nations for playing “maritime ping-pong” with people’s lives.

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Rohingya Exodus