The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) welcomes the decision of the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand to provide temporary protection to refugees and migrants rescued at sea as a step in the right direction.
We note that Thailand will be hosting a Special Meeting on Irregular Migration, to be held in Bangkok on 29 May with 17 states invited to attend. We are hopeful that the meeting would pave the way for viable durable solutions to address the irregular movements by sea.
We are encouraged by the announcements by the Malaysian Prime Minister that search-and-rescue operations will be conducted to locate and rescue people in boats still at sea. We urge other governments to follow the lead of Malaysia by conducting their own search-and-rescue operations.
While several countries, including the United States, the Philippines and Gambia, have shown leadership in supporting efforts to find durable solutions, we are dismayed by Australia’s vehement opposition to assisting its Asean neighbours provide protection to people at sea and its unwillingness to support durable solutions for those for those who have been rescued.
APRRN reiterates that all people have the right to request and receive humanitarian assistance and international protection. This includes in the context of rescue at sea and interception at sea operations. All rescue at sea and interception operations must ensure access to territory and to full and fair asylum procedures for those who express a need for international protection. No refugee should be penalised because of the way she or he entered a country. Reception arrangements for those rescued at sea must also be in line with international standards.
Furthermore, all authorities involved in border and immigration management must treat all persons with dignity and respect and in accordance with their obligations under human rights law. Practical protection safeguards are required to be put in place that take into consideration the differentiated protection requirements of people in mixed migration movements.
APRRN strongly urges Asean states to:
- provide immediate access to territory and provide the people rescued with adequate food, water, health care, shelter and sanitation.
- allow unconditional access to humanitarian agencies and international organisations with protection mandates such as UNHCR.
- ensure that no person rescued at sea is penalised for way he or she has entered a country.
- ensure that those in need of international protection are given full and timely access to asylum procedures.
- explore options for durable solutions, with the free, prior and informed consent of each affected person.
- ensure that full transparency and accountability to affected persons is guaranteed insofar as they are accorded due process of law and are fully informed of their rights and responsibilities and the limitations and time frames of any proposed solution.
- urgently develop regional solutions that address the root causes of refugee outflows, in particular the systematic persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar.