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UN High Commissioner for Refugees says Regional effort needed to reduce Indian Ocean death toll

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UN High Commissioner for Refugees says Regional effort needed to reduce Indian Ocean death toll

26 February 2013

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, today reiterated his call for countries in the Asia Pacific region to work together to tackle a recent increase in lives being lost among people smuggled by boat in the Indian Ocean.

Based on media and other accounts, almost 500 people perished at sea during 2012 after their boats broke down or capsized - making the Indian Ocean one of the deadliest regions in the world for people fleeing their country by boat or being trafficked by smugglers.

"This is an alarmingly high number of lives lost, and begs a far more concerted effort by countries of the region both with regard to addressing the causes and to preventing lives being lost," Guterres said. "Push-backs, denial of disembarkation, and boats adrift for weeks will not solve a regional problem that clearly needs better, more joined-up, and more compassionate approaches by everyone. UNHCR is offering its expertise to help find answers. I urge everyone to make use of next month's gathering in Jakarta to seek better solutions in a coordinated way."

UNHCR will be facilitating a regional meeting in mid-March in Indonesia on irregular movements by sea in the Asia-Pacific.

On 22 February UNHCR voiced its concern about the large number of deaths at sea in the Indian Ocean in recent months, including from an incident in mid-February in which more than 30 people were picked up off the east coast of Sri Lanka - reportedly after some 90 of their fellow passengers had died during a journey of several weeks from the Bay of Bengal. UNHCR is seeking access to the survivors to assess their international protection needs.Those on board may be Rohingya from western Myanmar's Rakhine state or from refugee camps and makeshift sites in Bangladesh

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Bangkok: Vivian Tan on mobile +66 818 270 280
  • In Geneva: Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106

The full text of the related UNHCR news story can be found here