The ship with 81 refugees was rescued by the New Delhi coast guard which refuses to allow it dock and wants it to return to Bangladesh. The Dhaka Foreign Minister: "We are under no obligation". Already eight dead on board.
New Delhi (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The fate of a group of Rohingya refugees who have been left adrift aboard a damaged fishing boat in the Andaman Sea for two weeks is at the center of a diplomatic spat between India and Bangladesh.
After repeated appeals yesterday the Indian coast guard intervened to rescue the boat which is located about 140 kilometers from the Indian coast. The vessel left on 11 February from Cox's Bazar, the area of southern Bangladesh where the Rohingya camps are located, the fishing boat had 56 women, 8 girls, 21 men and 5 boys on board: they were headed for Malaysia where the traffickers promised to be able to find them a job. After four days, however, the engines failed and the ship ended up adrift: eight people on board have already died.
The Indian coast guard has supplied the ship with water and food and is gearing up to repair the breakdown, but does not intend to dock the refugees on its shores. Instead, the officers are demanding the vessel return to Bangladesh.
India has never signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention which establishes the obligation of relief and protection, even though it currently hosts over 200,000 refugees, including some Rohingya.
The New Delhi request was stoutly rejected by Dakha Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen. ““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 to Reuters. “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.” More than a million Rohingya refugees are living in camps in Bangladesh, including the tens of thousands who fled Myanmar after the 2017 military crackdown.
The new crisis comes a few days after Malaysia's choice to send a group of 1,086 refugees, mostly belonging to ethnic minorities, back to Myanmar, despite the UN request to verify the presence of political refugees and asylum seekers.