Refugee Rescue Ship Sent to Asia To Help Rohingya

A Malta-based aid organization that has rescued 40,000 refugees while crossing the Mediterranean Sea is moving its operations to Asia to help the Rohingya people.

The Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) suspended its work in the Mediterranean due to the increasingly insecure situation for refugees in both Libya and Europe.

Co-founder and director, Regina Catrambone, wrote in a statement that MOAS has been met with resistance from European authorities who are “only focusing on preventing them [refugees] from arriving on European shores with no consideration of their fate when trapped on the other side of the sea.”

As such, with no European countries coming forward to accept the rescued refugees, MOAS did not want to risk being forced to return them to Libya, where refugees may be locked up for months or years with little food, no healthcare, and no idea when they will be released.

Moreover, MOAS is the fourth aid organization to suspend its rescue efforts due to the Libyan government’s hostility. For instance, in the past month, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, and Germany’s Sea Eye all suspended their work in the Mediterranean.

Catrambone said her organization did not want the past three years’ experience to go to waste. Instead, MOAS will be redeploying one of its ships, the Phoenix, to the Bay of Bengal to aid the Rohingya.

The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority who have faced ongoing persecution in Myanmar, to the point that the United Nations described them as being “the most persecuted people on earth.” An estimated that 400,000 Rohingya refugees are now living in Bangladesh, with more arriving daily, in order to escape what many are calling a genocide in Myanmar.

However, in Myanmar, the Rohingya people are being denied citizenship and they suffer from human rights abuses and indiscriminate violence. Refugees report having their villages burned down, children being taken away from their mothers, and there are random killings and beheadings by Myanmar’s security forces and Buddhist nationalists.

Violence towards the Rohingya has escalated recently since 30 Myanmar border posts and an army base were attacked by an insurgent group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. Myanmar security forces responded by launching a “clearance operation” to drive the remaining Rohingya out of the country.

As a result, aid workers reported that, over the course of 24 hours in August, 70,000 Rohingya or 10% of their total population crossed the border into Bangladesh.

With that said, MOAS’s new effort in southeast Asia promises to deliver aid and establish local development projects for the Rohingya. Catrambone wrote of their efforts in the Mediterranean and the organization’s new mission, which is to “…keep hope alive where it is most needed.”

Erika Loggin