Rohingya refugees left to starve at sea

On April 15, a boat carrying Rohingya refugees was denied disembarkation in Malaysia, leaving 500 people who had fled squalid, overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh stranded at sea for two months with little access to food or water. Citing concerns about the spread of COVID-19, Malaysian officials have tightened border controls and barred a number of boats from disembarking in recent months. After the boat was rescued by the Bangladeshi coastguard, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) sent medical teams to assess peoples’ needs and provide emergency medical care and mental health support. “They told us how their relatives had died before their eyes after drinking sea water, and how they had been mistreated,” said Muriel Boursier, MSF head of mission in Bangladesh. Other boats could still be stranded at sea, denied safe disembarkation by Malaysia and other countries in the region. On May 6, MSF wrote an open letter to Malaysian authorities expressing our support for safe disembarkation and urging them not to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to push vulnerable people back to sea.