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UN human rights office calls for compassion following Rohingya deaths at sea

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United Nations: The UN human rights office urged compassion for people desperately seeking shelter after 30 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar died on a boat in the Bay of Bengal after spending nearly two months at sea.

Nearly 400 others, who were found dehydrated, malnourished and in need of immediate medical care, disembarked in Bangladesh on Thursday morning and are receiving assistance from the UN refugee agency The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and its partners.

Whatever efforts are taken to combat people-smuggling, this should be a time for compassion towards those in desperate need of assistance and protection, Colville said.

With reports of other vessels in similar circumstances still at sea, the UN has urged countries to step-up timely search and rescue efforts.

The UN said any response should be based on international human rights and refugee law, and countries should avoid dangerous interception practices, such as preventing boats from landing.

Colville said the refugees’ journey was a sad reminder of the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from Rakhine state, in northern Myanmar, over the past four years.

More than 670,000 Rohingya fled in August, 2017 and are now living in camps in the Cox’s Bazar region in southern Bangladesh.

The UN rights office reported that the situation in Rakhine and neighbouring Chin state is again dire.

A recent surge in violence between the ethnic Arakan Army armed group and the national forces has affected civilians of all ethnic groups.

Further complicating the situation, there has been an internet blackout in nine townships across Rakhine and Chin States since June 2019, he said.

This blackout has greatly hampered the availability of reliable public information on hygiene, physical distancing precautions and other preventative measures. Internet restrictions have also been applied by the Bangladesh authorities to the Rohingya refugee camps, he said.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called on all parties to the conflict to heed the UN chief’s appeal.

The UN agency also urged the Myanmar authorities to lift the internet ban and allow humanitarians to access all conflict-affected areas, while Bangladesh should allow Rohingya refugees free access to information and communication.

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