UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk on the recent Rohingya crisis

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk on the recent Rohingya crisis
UNICEF/Patrick Brown. A man helps a woman to the shore, as a boat arrives with Rohingya refugees in Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. UN News, December 23, 2022.

At the end of 2022, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk reflected on the past year and on “the story we’d like to write for our future”, hoping for “a world where everyone’s rights are respected” (OHCHR Statement, December 30, 2022). During his most recent statements, he also seized the opportunity to address the issues that are surrounding the Rohingya group in the South Asian region, especially during the last months. The Rohingya people are one the biggest stateless ethnic minorities in the world, and during the last 50 years they tried to escape violence in Myanmar through continuous outbreaks of exodus towards the rest of the Indian subcontinent (GHRD December Report).

Over the last days of 2022, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner Türk also called for a coordinated regional approach to protect the thousands of desperate Rohingyas who are periodically risking their lives to escape Myanmar by undertaking perilous sea voyages (OHCHR Press Release, December 30, 2022). The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other humanitarian partners have reported a striking increase in the number of people attempting the crossing of the Andaman Sea in 2022, with numbers going as high as 2,000, compared to the less than three hundred people reported in 2021 (UNHCR Briefing Note, December 2, 2022). Even though it appears difficult to verify the data gathered, UNHCR estimated that in 2022 the number of dead and missing in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea was as high as two hundred, representing a shocking 10 percent of the total estimated journeys made during the past year (UN News, December 23, 2022).

One of the most recent crossings reported in the early days of December, resulted in more than two hundred people marooned in the Andaman Sea. The UNHCR has confirmed that these people have eventually been brought ashore to safety in the coastal areas of North Aceh, Indonesia. They have allegedly been at sea for at least a month, without any help. Unfortunately, the survivors told UNHCR that around twenty-six people died during this long journey, due to the difficult conditions onboard and lack of drinking water and food (UNHCR Press Release December 27, 2022). “It is devastating to learn that many people have already lost their lives, including children,” added UNHCR’s Director for Asia and the Pacific, Mr. Ratwatte, “we need to see the States in the region help save lives and not let people die” (UN News, December 23, 2022). 

Anticipating that the current crisis will not cease soon, Mr. Türk urged States to assist in the safekeeping of the Rohingya group, through active search and rescue operations, and by guaranteeing the disembarkation of Rohingya refugees on their territories. He also recognised the consistent assistance that certain States are already granting, such as the support that Bangladesh has been displaying towards the Rohingya community since 2017. However, “an urgent solution must be found to enable the voluntary return of all Rohingya, with full respect of their dignity and human rights as full and equal citizens of Myanmar,” emphasised the High Commissioner (UN News, December 30, 2022). In his appeal regarding the recent event of Rohingya refugees in distress in the Andaman Sea, UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Tom Andrews urged governments of the Southeast Asia area to start working together to guarantee safety and human rights, and ensure coordinated search and rescue operations to avoid even more deaths, as “the duty to rescue persons in distress at sea is a fundamental rule of international law,” he underlined (OHCHR, December 22, 2022).

“I urge all governments from the region to develop and coordinate a more humane regional response to those fleeing the junta’s [Myanmar] brutal violence, including the Rohingya. This requires an absolute moratorium on any deportations or pushbacks to Myanmar, and the need for coordinated search and rescue at sea in line with international human rights standards. The international community must step forward and assist regional actors to provide durable solutions for the Rohingya,” said UN Special Rapporteur Andrews (OHCHR, December 22, 2022).


Irene Asia Scomparin. (December 2022). 5th anniversary of Rohingyas’ Exodus in Bangladesh: What's Next? GHRD. Retrieved on January 12, 2023 from: https://ghrd.org/uploads/reports/pdf/77b4d34ac40d5274ada3bd2bd45e95ae.pdf

The UN Refugee Agency. (December 2, 2022). UNHCR calls for support, solidarity amid rise in risky Andaman Sea crossings. UNHCR. Retrieved on January 12, 2023 from: https://www.unhcr.org/news/briefing/2022/12/6389bed04/unhcr-calls-support-solidarity-amid-rise-risky-andaman-sea-crossings.html.

The UN Refugee Agency. (December 27, 2022). UNHCR welcomes Indonesia’s act of humanity, saving desperate human lives adrift at sea. UNHCR. Retrieved on January 12, 2023 from: https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/press/2022/12/63aab4294/unhcr-welcomes-indonesias-act-humanity-saving-desperate-human-lives-adrift.html.

United Nations. (December 23, 2022). UN refugee agency urges rescue of 190 desperate people adrift in Andaman Sea. UN News. Retrieved on January 12, 2023 from: https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/12/1131962

United Nations. (December 30, 2022). UN rights chief on Myanmar refugees and a future of ‘kindness, empathy and unity’. UN News. Retrieved on January 12, 2023 from: https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/12/1132102.

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. (December 22, 2022). Coordinated regional action urged to stop Rohingya deaths at sea: UN expert. OHCHR. Retrieved on January 12, 2023 from: https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/12/coordinated-regional-action-urged-stop-rohingya-deaths-sea-un-expert.

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. (December 30, 2022). Türk urges coordinated approach to save Rohingya at sea. OHCHR. Retrieved on January 12, 2023 from: https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/12/turk-urges-coordinated-approach-save-rohingya-sea.

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. (December 30, 2022). UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Look Ahead 2023. OHCHR. Retrieved on January 12, 2023 from: https://www.ohchr.org/en/statements/2022/12/un-high-commissioner-human-rights-look-ahead-2023.