Myanmar’s Neighbors Must Protect Those Seeking Refuge

Please see below statement from Refugees International President Eric Schwartz: 

“Refugees International is deeply concerned about the failure of Myanmar’s neighbors to protect those seeking refuge from the Myanmar military’s February 2021 coup and ongoing attacks on civilians. 

As the Myanmar displacement crisis grows, governments in South and Southeast Asia must refrain from forced returns and work with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to ensure access and assistance to those seeking asylum.

The Myanmar military’s horrific  actions have led to the deaths of more than 700 civilians and the displacement of tens of thousands in recent weeks. Many of those displaced remain within the country, but thousands have fled into Thailand and hundreds into India. We are alarmed by reports that Thai authorities have forced some 2,000 refugees back into Karen State in Myanmar and that India has detained more than 150 Rohingya refugees who may be forced back into Myanmar as well. In February, Malaysia returned at least 1,000 people from Myanmar despite concerns expressed by UNHCR. Such actions are in violation of the international principle of non-refoulement.

Officials in Bangladesh, which is hosting nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees, continue to push for repatriation despite the fact that those who led the genocidal campaign against the Rohingya are now in charge. Meanwhile, conditions in the Rohingya camps are deteriorating as Bangladesh continues to pursue negative measures including restriction of livelihoods and education opportunities and construction of barbed wire fencing around the camps. Bangladesh has also moved nearly 20,000 refugees to an isolated island despite serious questions about the safety, feasibility, and voluntariness of such moves. 

Some countries in the region have also continued to push back boats of asylum seekers, refusing them safe disembarkation. A boat that left Bangladesh carrying more than 80 Rohingya refugees in February has been stranded for weeks. The Indian navy and coast guard have provided assistance, but Indian officials refuse to allow the boat to reach shore. 

China, meanwhile, has closed its border with Myanmar, citing concerns with the spread of COVID-19. While such concerns justify carefully managed public health measures, they do not justify forcing people back into dangerous situations. Steps can be taken for testing, quarantining, and the provision of health assistance.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member, is being directly impacted and must play a greater role in pressuring the Myanmar junta and assisting those displaced. ASEAN members should also adhere to previous stated commitments toward a framework for search-and-rescue and safe disembarkation of asylum seekers found at sea.

The Myanmar military’s actions are at the center of this growing crisis and increased regional and international coordination will be required to reverse the dangerous path it has taken. In the meantime, countries must hold to their international obligations to assist those who seek refuge.”

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Refugees International Director of Communications Sarah Sheffer at or +1 202 540 7029.

Photo Caption: Rohingya refugees move to Bhashan Char Island, in the Bay of Bengal, in Chittagong, Bangladesh on January 29, 2021. (Rehman Asad/Barcroft Mediavia Getty Images)