The United Nations refugee agency today announced that it is seeking $13 million to help with the needs of new boat arrivals to countries in Southeast Asia, where thousands of refugees and migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh have been risking their lives by crossing the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.
“With the monsoon season imminent, thousands of people may still be at sea,” Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told journalists at the UN briefing in Geneva Switzerland.
Ms. Fleming said the appeal, which was launched Thursday, is aimed at beefing up UNHCR’s work related to protection for the nearly 4,800 people from Myanmar and Bangladesh who have been disembarked from smugglers' boats in the last month.
“In the latest incident, earlier this week, more than 700 people were landed in Myanmar’s Rakhine state,” she said. “They included some 120 women and children who said they had been at sea for at least three months.”
UNHCR’s appeal follows from last week’s regional meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, of countries affected by the humanitarian crisis. It also reflects elements of a 10-point plan of action proposed by UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Ms. Fleming said the funds sought by UNHCR would allow the agency to step up its response in three main areas. “Firstly by helping meet the international protection needs of new boat arrivals, secondly by enhancing information available to people considering the journey, and thirdly by targeting some of the root causes of these movements in source countries,” she said.
More than 1,000 new Rohingya arrivals have been registered in Indonesia by UNHCR, which has distributed relief supplies and are counselling dozens of new arrivals in southern Thailand, and in Malaysia the refugee agency is scaling up to meet the needs of arrivals.
Additional resources are needed to set up mobile teams to quickly identify and help people with specific protection needs. Refugees who cannot return home will need assurance that they can stay in host countries temporarily with access to legal work until conditions are conducive for voluntary return or until other solutions are found. Where possible, UNHCR will support livelihood programmes within national structures to serve the needs of both refugees and host communities.
UNHCR said the appeal envisages training for the region’s search-and-rescue officials on international legal principles and protection, and exploration of predictable disembarkation options. The agency said it will also expand its monitoring and reporting on maritime movements to include information campaigns providing factual information to potential boat people about the risks and mistreatment at the hands of smugglers and traffickers.
Ms. Fleming said to help resolve the three-year-long internal displacement in Rakhine state, UNHCR is seeking to expand assistance to, and monitoring of, displaced families who wish to return home or establish new homes.