Rights groups urge Bangladesh government to allow some 500 Rohingya stuck in the Bay of Bengal to come ashore.
Hundreds of Rohingya refugees are stranded on board two fishing trawlers in the Bay of Bengal without being able to reach land, while the Bangladesh government said they are not its responsibility, Al Jazeera reported Saturday.
At least 500 Rohingya refugees may have been at sea for weeks without adequate food and water, drawing criticism from rights groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister AK Abdul Momen told Al Jazeera that the Rohingya refugees are "not Bangladesh's responsibility."
"Why you are asking Bangladesh to take those Rohingyas? They are in the deep sea, not even in Bangladesh's territorial water," Momen said, adding that there are at least eight coastal countries surrounding the Bay of Bengal.
"It's your duty to ask Myanmar government first because those are their citizens," Momen told Al Jazeera.
The two trawlers recently received inhuman rejection by the countries of the region, putting of refugees and asylum seekers’ lives at risk, HRW denounced.
Malaysia has imposed restrictions on all boats in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving hundreds of Rohingya on board to their fate, as well as Thailand has indicated that it will refuse entry to Rohingya boats.
The official said that just weeks ago, Bangladesh rescued a total of 396 Rohingya people from a vessel that had been adrift for about two months after also failing to reach Malaysia.
"Why should Bangladesh take responsibility every time? Momen asked. "Bangladesh has already taken more than a million of Rohingya. We are running out of our generosity now."
For his part, Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW said that "Bangladesh has shouldered a heavy burden as the result of the Myanmar military's atrocity crimes, but this is no excuse to push boatloads of refugees out to sea to die."
"Bangladesh should continue to help those at grave risk and preserve the international goodwill it has gained in recent years for helping the Rohingya," he added.
UNHCR also expressed its concern about the rejections and said “we are increasingly concerned by reports of failure to disembark vessels in distress and of the grave immediate risk this poses to the men, women and children on board. Search and rescue, along with prompt disembarkation, are life-saving acts.”
Under international law, public health measures taken by countries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic must be proportionate, nondiscriminatory, and based on available scientific evidence, so the pandemic cannot justify a general ban, such as Bangladesh’s refusal to allow any Rohingya now or in the future to disembark.
Currently, around 900,000 Rohingya live in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, most of whom fled Myanmar since August 2017 to escape the military’s crimes against humanity and possible genocide.
The estimated 600,000 Rohingya that remain in Rakhine State in Myanmar are subject to government persecution and violence, confined to camps and villages without freedom of movement, and cut off from access to adequate food, health care, education, and livelihoods.
According to the United Nations, the Rohingyas are "one of the most persecuted minorities in the world," while the Myanmar government has so far refused to grant them citizenship, violating their fundamental rights and leaving them as stateless, what makes their situation worse.