Malaysia urged to allow Rohingya refugee boats to land

KUALA LUMPUR (AP) – Human Rights Watch said on Saturday that the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t justify Malaysia’s turning away of overloaded boats carrying Rohingya and risking the refugees’ lives.

The New York-based rights group noted that Malaysia had recently pushed back to sea at least two boatloads of Rohingya refugees. Despite Malaysia’s partial coronavirus lockdown that prevents foreigners from entering the country, Human Rights Watch said the pandemic should not be an excuse for a blanket policy of turning away boats in distress.

“Malaysia’s claims to support the rights of the Rohingya mean shockingly little when they push desperate refugees back to sea,” said Human Rights Watch Asia Director Phil Robertson. “The COVID-19 pandemic does not create a justification for risking the lives of refugees.”

Malaysia has previously protested the persecution of the Rohingya and sought justice for them. But its navy on Thursday intercepted a boat with some 200 Rohingya refugees off its northern coast and prevented it from entering Malaysian waters. The fate of that boat is unknown.

Rohingya refugees gather after being rescued in Teknaf near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. PHOTO: AP