Refugees still at sea . . .
Bangladesh has refused to allow two boats carrying 500 Rohingya refugees to enter Bangladeshi territory to receive food, water, and medical care. Bangladesh is currently hosting one million Rohingya, most of whom have fled Myanmar in recent years in response to severe persecution. It is unclear how long the two boats have been at sea, but it is believed they were trying to reach Malaysia. On April 15, Bangladesh rescued another boat that had been turned away from Malaysia; of the 396 Rohingya on board, most were under the age of 20, and at least 60 were reported to have died. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said today that if action is not taken, there could be a “human tragedy of terrible proportions.”
Running out of options . . .
In declaring that it was “not Bangladesh’s responsibility” to accept the refugees, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister sounded a troubling change in tone. While Bangladesh has become increasingly reluctant to host the Rohingya, it has been almost alone in its willingness to provide them shelter. Indeed, almost no country in South and Southeast Asia has signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. That includes Bangladesh, as well as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand – three other destinations for Rohingya seeking safety. These countries are still seen by the international community as being obligated to provide refuge, as Bangladesh has done, but if Dhaka’s reluctance hardens into refusal, the Rohingya could find themselves running out of options.
Canada’s constructive voice . . .
Canada has taken an active interest in the plight of the Rohingya. In 2017, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau appointed Bob Rae as Special Envoy to Myanmar to address the Rohingya issue. (Rae’s appointment was changed recently to Special Envoy for Humanitarian and Refugee Issues.) Canada was also a major behind-the-scenes backer of the genocide lawsuit brought against Myanmar last year through the International Court of Justice. However, it is uncertain whether Canada or any other sympathetic country has the bandwidth or political will to deal with anything other than its own coronavirus crisis. The UN Human Rights chief implored Bangladesh to allow the boats to land. So far, Dhaka has not responded.