UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday that he is alarmed by reports that some countries in Southeast Asia may be refusing entry to boats adrift at sea with several thousand refugees & migrants.
Thailand declined permission for a migrant boat to land on Thursday while Malaysia said it would push boats back out to sea.
"The secretary-general urges governments to ensure that the obligation of rescue at sea is upheld & the prohibition on refoulement is maintained," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
p> "He moreover urges governments to facilitate timely disembarkation & keep their borders & ports open in order to assist the vulnerable people who are in need," he said.
Smugglers have abandoned ships full of migrants, many of them hungry & sick, following a crackdown on human trafficking in Thailand, the most usual first destination for Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Bangladesh & Myanmar.
An estimated 25,000 Bangladeshis & Rohingya boarded rickety smugglers' boats in the first three months of this year, twice as many in the same period of 2014, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR has said.
The UNHCR estimates that around 300 people died at sea in the first quarter of this year as a result of starvation, dehydration & abuse by boat crews.
Ban "emphasizes the need for a timely, comprehensive, rights-based, predictable & effective response" to the crisis, Dujarric said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols, editing by G Crosse)