UNHCR warns over looming Rohingya refugee crisis

UNHCR warns over looming Rohingya refugee crisis

Rohingya Muslims take to the seas to escape sectarian violence in Myanmar. (AFP)

The UN has issued a warning over an expected surge of mostly Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees heading out for southeast Asia by the end of the month.

“UNHCR is calling for urgent action before the end of the monsoon season unleashes a new wave of people leaving on boats from the Bay of Bengal,” spokeswoman Melissa Fleming of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was reported as saying on Saturday.

Earlier this year, a humanitarian crisis broke out when boatloads of Rohingyas trying to escape persecution in Myanmar were turned back or sent on their way from the shores of Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

“We expect this to resume again in about a month,” she said. “There are appalling conditions on these boats and a bit of ping pong, and real concerns about access to territory.”

During a press conference held in Geneva on Friday, the UNHCR called on regional governments to avoid a similar humanitarian crisis by implementing steps aimed at boosting search and rescue operations and creating safer places for disembarkation.

According to the agency, around 31,000 Rohingyas and Bangladeshis left from the Bay of Bangal by boat since the beginning of the year, a 34 percent rise from the same period in 2014. A total of 94,000 people are thought to have risked their lives partaking in such journeys since 2014. At least 1,100 more are thought to have drowned in the same time period.

Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, currently living in the western Burmese state of Rakhine, have been subject to systematic repression by extremist Buddhists since the country’s independence in 1948. This is while the government of Myanmar has fallen short of protecting the rights of the marginalized group. Rohingya Muslims have been recognized by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted communities

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