Human rights advocates are calling on Malaysia, which turned away at least two boats filled with Rohingya refugees, to reverse itself and start accepting the migrants.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement Saturday that Malaysia can be mindful of the coronavirus pandemic without endangering the lives of refugees as it responds to it.
On Thursday, the Malaysian navy intercepted a boat with 200 Rohingya refugees, and prevented it from entering Malaysian waters, according to The Associated Press. It’s unclear what happened to that boat.
The day before, the Bangladesh Coast Guard intercepted another boat with 382 refugees, who had been turned away from Malaysian waters weeks prior, survivors said. Although many of the refugees were removed from that boat, at least 30 people died before the rescue.
Malaysia’s National Security Council on Saturday defended its decision to turn away the boat over concerns the refugees would be exposed to the coronavirus. An official for the council said refugees were given food and fresh water before being turned away.
In March, Malaysia started banning the entry of foreign nationals to curb the outbreak in the country. Malaysia, a nation of more than 30 million people, has 5,251 confirmed cases with 86 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
“Malaysia’s claims to support the rights of the Rohingya mean shockingly little when they push desperate refugees back to sea,” said Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.