Statement on the Treatment of Rohingya and Bangladeshi ‘Boat People’ in Asia

Statement on the Treatment of Rohingya and Bangladeshi ‘Boat People’ in Asia, 06 February 2009

We, the undersigned organizations, are extremely concerned about the treatment of over a thousand Rohingyas from Burma and migrants from Bangladesh who have been forcibly expelled and abandoned in international waters by the Thai security forces since December 2008.

Over the past few weeks, several boats have been rescued off the coasts of Indonesia and the Andaman Islands of India. Survivors tell of having been detained in Thailand, beaten, and towed out to sea on boats without engines or sufficient food and water. Several hundred remain missing and are feared dead.

We are also concerned about the fate, including possible refoulement, of the Rohingya who remain in detention in Thailand, Indonesia and India. If Rohingyas are returned to Burma they could face widespread human rights violations, including forced labour, forced eviction, land confiscation and severe restrictions on freedom of movement. Refoulement of such individuals is prohibited under customary international law.


Over the past two years, the number of people leaving Bangladesh and Burma by boat for Southeast Asia has grown. They have fled in search of protection, safety and/or work. Most are Rohingyas, a Muslim minority from western Burma.

The Rohingya have been rendered stateless in Burma and have experienced systematic discrimination, exclusion, and human rights violations in Burma for decades, prompting hundreds of thousands to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, most notably Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand.  Most are without legal status and are vulnerable to arrest, imprisonment, detention and deportation.

Aside from the Rohingya, millions of ethnic minorities and political activists have fled Burma, fearing persecution, violence and human rights abuses.

Specific Concerns

We are concerned by the following reports about the Rohingya:

  • The ill-treatment and failure to provide adequate assistance to hundreds who were arrested and detained in Thailand. Since December 2008, those captured at sea by the Thai Navy were directly transferred to the custody of the Thai Army at Koh Sai Daeng. Despite their weak condition, they were not provided with adequate food, were forced to sleep outside under armed guard, and were subject to ill-treatment such as kicking and beatings with a stick. They were then forced to board boats that were not seaworthy, were given inadequate provisions, and then towed out to sea and abandoned.
  • Those who initially refused to board the vessel were threatened at gunpoint. Four men were thrown overboard with their hands tied.
  • Hundreds, perhaps thousands, remain missing, including children.
  • Thailand and Indonesia have announced their intention to deport the Rohingya in their custody.

We recognize that:

·         The Indonesian and Indian Governments have conducted rescue at sea operations, providing relief and medical attention to rescued Rohingyas and Bangladeshis.

·         On 26 January 2009, the Thai Government transferred 78 new arrivals to Police and Immigration authorities rather than the Army.

·         The Thai Government has indicated that it will postpone the deportation of the 78 Rohingya arrivals until further investigation of their injuries. The Thai Government has also called for a regional solution to the plight of Rohingya.


Given the gravity of situation, we recommend that:

The Burmese Government:

  • End the systematic persecution of the Rohingya ethnic minority and recognise them as citizens with full rights and protection.

The Thai Government:

  • Cease forcibly expelling the Rohingyas, which is in violation of international law. Investigate serious allegations of mistreatment by the Thai security forces which may be in serious violation of Thailand’s obligations under the 1984 the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and bring to justice those responsible.   
  • Ensure that detainees have access to humanitarian assistance, protection and independent legal counsel by relevant international and local agencies. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees) should have access to all detainees to ensure fair determination of their status. 
  • Facilitate an open and independent inquiry by the Thai National Human Rights Commission and/or an international body into the allegations of human rights violations, providing them with full access to survivors and detainees, relevant government and army officials, and records related to the events.

The Indonesian and Indian Governments:

  • Respect the principle of non-refoulement in relation to those rescued at sea and currently being detained.
  • Ensure that detainees have access to humanitarian assistance, protection and independent legal counsel by relevant international and local agencies. UNHCR should have access to all detainees to ensure fair determination of their status.

The Bangladeshi Government:

  • Uphold its international obligations as a country of first asylum to ensure the protection and assistance of Rohingya with the support of the international community.

The members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Bay of Bengal Multi-Sectoral Initiative for Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC):

  • Launch immediate search and rescue operations for the remaining boats pushed back into international waters, as well as other boats of migrants reported to have left Bangladesh.
  • Work with the UNHCR, the international community and civil society groups to find equitable regional solutions that meet the protection needs of those forced to leave Burma, with responsibility-sharing arrangements regionally and internationally.
  • Urge the Burmese Government to stop the systematic persecution of the Rohingya minority, which is the root cause of their flight to neighbouring countries.
  • Meet their obligations as state parties to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 1974 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the 1979 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR).
  • Urge all members to ratify the 1951 Convention Related to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and  the 1990 International Convention for the Protection of the Right of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families .

The United Nations and the International Community:

  • Continue to support the governments of Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand and its neighbours to find a durable solution to the protection needs of Burmese refugees throughout the region, ensuring consultation with civil society.
  • Engage the Burmese Government to solve the ongoing human rights crisis there, including amending the 1982 Citizenship Law which renders the Rohingya stateless.
  • Ensure that urgent humanitarian assistance is provided to Rohingyas and Bangladeshis who have fled on boats.
  • Ensure that human rights complaints related to the treatment of these people are thoroughly investigated and reported to the Human Rights Council


 This statement was written by members of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN)[1], and has been endorsed by the following organizations and individuals:


1.     A Just Australia

2.     Act for Peace, National Council of Churches Australia (NCCA)

3.     Austcare

4.     Burmese Rohingya Community in Australia (BRCA)

5.     Children Out of Detention (ChilOut)

6.     Dr Savitri Taylor, School of Law, La Trobe University

7.     Rosie Scott, International Detention Coalition

8.     The Association of Survivors of Torture and Trauma ( ASeTTS)

9.     The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

10.  The Ethnic Communities Council of WA and the Multicultural Services Centre of WA

11.  The Refugee Council of Australia

12.  The South Australian Refugee Health Network

13.  The Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture

14.  Union Aid Abroad APHEDA

15.  West Coast Refugee Sanctuary Group Inc.

16.  Westgate Baptist Community


17.  Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK)

18.  Empowerment through Law of the Common People (ELCOP)

19.  IMA Research Foundation

20.  Odhikar


21.  Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO)

22.  Shan Women’s Action Network


23.  The Egyptian Foundation for Refugee Rights

Hong Kong

24.  Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre


25.  Centre for Development and Human Rights


26.  Human Rights Working Group

27.  Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI)



28.  David Dickson, Solidarity House International


29.  Korea Women’s Hotline

30.  Korean Public Interest Lawyers Group (GONGGAM)

31.  The Refugee Pnan



32.  Frontiers Ruwad Association


33.  All Women’s Action Society

34.  Amnesty International Malaysia

35.  Borneo Child Aid Society/Humana

36.  Building and Wood Workers International (BWI)

37.  Center for Orang Asli Concerns

38.  Civil Rights Committee of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall

39.  Coalition of Burma Ethnic Groups in Malaysia (COBEM)

40.  Community Residents Association of Selangor and Federal Territory (PERMAS)

41.  Council of Churches of Malaysia

42.  Health Equity Initiatives (HEI)

43.  Empower (Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor)

44.  Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (JERIT)

45.  Justice, Peace and Solidarity In Mission, The Good Shepherd Sisters

46.  Kumpulan ACTS

47.  Malaysia Youth and Student Democratic Movement (DEMA)

48.  Organization of Karenni Development (OKD)

49.  Pusat Jagaan Kanak Kanak NurSalam, Chow Kit

50.  Pusat Komas (Community Communication Centre)

51.  Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)

52.  Tenaganita (Women’s Force)

53.  The National Human Rights Society (HAKAM)

54.  Women’s Aid Organisation

55.  Workers Organisation 


56.  National Center Against Violence 


57.  All Nepal Women’s Association

58.  INHURED International



59.  ESCR-Asia

60.  Pakistan International Human Rights Organization (PIHRO)



61.  Center for Migrant Advocacy

62.  Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA)

63.  The Pax _Romana-International Movement of Catholic Students

64.  Virgilio “Boy” Hernandez 


65.  Singapore Working Group for Asean Human Rights Mechanism (MARUAH)

66.  UNI Apro


South Africa

67.  Lawyers for Human Rights

Sri Lanka

68.  Andrew Samuel, Community Development Services, Colombo

69.  Commission for Justice and Peace (CJP) of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka

70.  South Asian Network for Refugees, IDPs & Migrants (SANRIM)



71.  Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma

72.  Arakan Project

73.  Mekong Ecumenical Partnership Program, Christian Conference of Asia

74.  Serge Auguste, Maryknoll

75.  Shining Som Mekong Alumni Network

76.  U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI)

United Kingdom

77.  Forest Peoples Programme

78.  The Equal Rights Trust

United States

79.  Asylum Access (US/Thailand)

80.  Church World Service, Immigration and Refugee Program

81.  Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center

82.  Refugees International

83.  U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) 


84.  Africa Internally Displaced Persons Voice (Africa IDP Voice)


Regional/ International

85.  Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development (APWLD)

86.  Asian Solidarity for Peoples’ Advocacy (SAPA)

87.  Christian Conference of Asia

88.  Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility (CARAM Asia)

89.  Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW)

90.  International Detention Coalition

91.  Nonviolence International Southeast Asia (NISEA)

92.  The Asian Center for the Progress of Peoples

93.  The Asian Human Rights Commission

[1] The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) is a civil society network committed to advancing the rights of refugees in the Asia Pacific Region. The network includes members who work directly with the Rohingya population in Asia.
Warm regards,

Wong Chai Yi
Suaram Outreach and Events Coordinator
+603-77843525 / +6012-7771152

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