HUMANITARIAN agency MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) has announced it will deploy its search and rescue vessel MY Phoenix to the Andaman Sea for a one-month observation mission, as more boats carrying Rohingya refugees from Burma (Myanmar) are expected to head for Southeast Asia.
Malaysian authorities on Tuesday intercepted a boat carrying 56 Rohingya Muslim refugees from Burma off the northern island of Langkawi, with rights groups predicting a further wave of boats during the months seas are calmer.
“How can we sit back as people risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones to escape what the UN has described as ethnic cleansing?” said MOAS Cofounder and Director Regina Catrambone in a statement.
“As always, MOAS will stand in solidarity with one of the world’s most vulnerable refugee communities. Since our first mission in 2014, we have been a lighthouse of hope for thousands of people in danger, and this is what we will continue to be,” she said.
The UN has said more than 671,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine State into Cox’s Bazar since Aug 25 in response to so-called “clearing operations” by Burma’s Tatmadaw army. The military stands accused of mass killings, rape and arson in Muslim villages.
MOAS was founded in 2014 in response to tragedies in 2013 in which over 2,400 men, women and children drowned in the Mediterranean fleeing conflict in Libya, Syria and Iraq.
It says it has assisted more than 40,000 people making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, and since September 2017 has shifted its focus to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
Humanitarian agencies have warned of a “humanitarian crisis within the crisis” as Bangladesh’s approaching wet season could see flooding and disease ravage overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar that are now home to more than 830,000 refugees.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled sectarian violence in Rakhine in 2012, with a peak in 2015 of an estimated 25,000 people fleeing across the Andaman Sea for Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
MOAS previously deployed the Phoenix in Oct 2015 to run an observation mission for six months.