As many as 400 Rohingya refugees are believed to be stranded at sea, with dozens of deaths having already been recorded. Fleeing violence in their home state, South and Southeast Asian governments are using COVID- 19 pandemic-related restrictions to block them from landing safely and seeking asylum. The Indonesian Government, as co-chair to the 2016 Bali Process, has a responsibility to manage a regional response to this crisis and co-ordinate search and rescue operations to locate and assist boats in distress, in line with regional declarations and international law.
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Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi, S.H., LL.M.
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia
Taman Pejambon no. 6, Central Jakarta, DKI Jakarta 10110 Indonesia
Email: [email protected]
Ambassador Mahendra Siregar
Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia
2020 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036
Phone: 202 775 5200
Salutation: Dear Ambassador
I am writing to express my grave concern about the several hundred Rohingya women, men and children who have been stranded at sea for weeks or possibly months. These people fled their homes in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State after the military unleashed a brutal campaign of violence against them, and governments from across the region have been invoking COVID- 19 pandemic-related restrictions to deny them permission to disembark. It is alarming to learn that dozens of lives have already been lost at sea, and that there have been reports that those who have been allowed to disembark are severely malnourished and dehydrated. According to information obtained by Amnesty International, as many as up to 400 refugees are still believed to be at sea.
As you are aware, Ministers involved the Bali Process committed to a comprehensive regional approach to ensure safety and protection for refugees and migrants in March 2016. As the co-chair of the Bali process, the Indonesian Government plays a key role in responding to this crisis and ensuring that no more lives are tragically lost. I find this situation troubling as it revives distressing memories of the 2015 Andaman Sea crisis, when an untold number of Rohingya people were not rescued and hundreds lost their lives. This failed response to a humanitarian crisis cannot be repeated year after year.
I urge you to immediately call for an emergency meeting to coordinate search and rescue operations to locate and assist boats in distress, in line with regional declarations and international law; work together with governments in the region to refrain from pushing back boats to the sea, and allow all boats carrying refugees and migrants to land safely in the nearest country; and along with neighboring countries (particularly Malaysia and Thailand), prioritize the immediate humanitarian needs of refugees and migrants including adequate food, water, shelter and health care, according to the Presidential Regulation 125/2016 when the boats enter Indonesian waters