Hundreds of Myanmar's Rohingya people are missing at sea and many more are at risk of drowning after Thai authorities forcibly expelled large groups of Rohingyas seeking refuge.
Thousands of Rohingyas, a Muslim minority from Rakhine State, western Myanmar (formerly Burma), who have been subjected to years of persecution in Myanmar, have fled in recent months on boats sailing for Thailand and Malaysia.
However, the Thai military forcibly expelled around 1,000 Rohingyas arriving in southwest Thailand by boat, while the Indian and Indonesian authorities have rescued hundreds of them. Hundreds of Rohingyas are missing or have died after the Thai security forces set them adrift in unseaworthy boats with little or no food and water.
"The Rohingya's situation has reached a critical stage over the last two months. The Thai government must stop forcibly expelling Rohingyas and provide them with immediate humanitarian assistance and cease any plans to proceed with more expulsions," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Director.
Indonesia announced on Thursday that it was still determining the fate of almost 200 Rohingyas and Bangladeshis who had landed in Weh Island, Aceh province on 7 January. The Indian navy have rescued hundreds of Rohingyas on or near the Andaman Islands.
In light of the plight of the Rohingyas, Amnesty International has urged Myanmar to stop the systematic persecution of the group. Amnesty International has also urged Myanmar’s neighbours to provide the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) immediate access to all Rohingyas in their territory and to ratify the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, and the UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.
"The governments of Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Myanmar, Thailand and India must also fulfil their obligation to provide assistance to those in distress at sea, regardless of nationality, status or circumstances, and to provide a search and rescue service."
"We welcome Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s stated commitment to convene a regional forum on the Rohingyas. It is only through a regional initiative, involving Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand, and with the participation of UNHCR, that a durable solution can be found to the plight of the Rohingyas," said Sam Zarifi.
"Any regional solution must ensure that those Rohingyas who have a well-founded fear of persecution in Myanmar are not returned there."
For the last three decades, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas have fled systematic persecution to neighbouring countries in Asia, the vast majority to Bangladesh. Within Myanmar, the Rohingyas suffer from specific deeply discriminatory policies targeting them. They are denied citizenship and are thus effectively stateless.
Rohingyas who are returned to Myanmar continue to be at serious risk of human rights violations, including forced labour, forced eviction, land confiscation, and severe restrictions on freedom of movement.