To mark the six-year anniversary of the Andaman Sea crisis of 2015, the Asia-Pacific Journal on Human Rights and the Law (APJHRL) is showcasing research and reflections from the region. 

Kaldor Centre Senior Research Fellow Madeline Gleeson was the Guest Editor for this special issue, which focuses on how protection capacity and diplomatic responses to the Rohingya situation and maritime movements have evolved since 2015. 

‘The region failed to live up to its post-2015 promises,’ write Gleeson and co-editor Kelley Loper in their introductory essay, noting that since 2020, with the added pressure of a global pandemic, governments have once more refused to come to the aid of Rohingya refugees packed onto crowded boats in the same water.

‘While the current global preoccupation with COVID-19 is understandable, the Rohingya situation is one of the world’s largest and most significant refugee crises, and its prospects for resolution in the foreseeable future – already slim – have been shattered by the recent coup d’état in Myanmar.’ 

Gleeson and Loper argue that ‘With repatriation no longer viable in the near future, mass resettlement unrealistic, and the unsustainability of indefinite accommodation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar, new practical measures are urgently needed to improve the protections available to the Rohingya.’ 

The special issue also features work from Kaldor Centre affiliates Brian Barbour and Natasha Yacoub, among other distinguished scholars.

Gleeson’s introduction to the APJHRL is open and available for all to read in full

The special issue is part of a package of work Gleeson has curated reflecting on the progress made and yet to be made since the Andaman Sea Crisis.

This package also includes: 

•a blog series from scholars, policy specialists and people with lived experience; and

video presentations on key aspects of the crisis, from a webinar including advocate Wai Wai Nu (discussing APJHRL research about women at sea), Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson, and Dato Steven Wong of the Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration.

The 2015 crisis saw thousands of Rohingya fleeing on boats caught at sea with no disembarkation options. In the intervening years, extreme violence in Myanmar in 2017 led to almost a million Rohingya fleeing Myanmar, mostly for Bangladesh, where their situation is dire and worsening amid efforts to relocate them to a nearby flood-prone island, Bhasan Char. 

In 2020, more Rohingya left Bangladesh by boat to neighbouring Southeast Asian nations, but faced similar obstacles to disembarkation – albeit with less media coverage than in 2015 due to restrictions related to the pandemic. This year, a boat carrying dozens of Rohingya was turned away by Malaysia and India and adrift for more than 100 days before fishermen in Aceh landed the boat’s survivors.