Five years on from the crisis in the Andaman Sea, it is glaringly evident that those who are compelled to seek safety and dignity through this maritime route face the same tragic combination of inaction and indifference today as was evident in 2015.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to a pause in the international resettlement of refugees, as announced by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in March. Although resettlement resumed in June, travel restrictions remain in place and resettlement numbers for the year remain extremely low.
“We’ve all seen the photographs of these refugees. We’ve seen them hanging their emaciated limbs off the sides of their boats. We’ve seen the scars on their backs, earned in fights over scarce food and water. We’ve read their harrowing stories of their being abandoned at sea, rejected by one government after another.” -Tahmima Anam
India – a host nation of tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees, primarily from 2012 and earlier – has recently hardened its stance, declaring the Rohingya as ‘illegal migrants’ to be deported back to Myanmar. This approach is under challenge in the Supreme Court, but the present government’s broader policies, particularly relating to identity documents for certain foreigners under the law, puts Rohingya lives and dignity at risk.