CHRISTCHURCH (New Zealand) — An Myanmar citizen who jumped from a cargo vessel into the freezing waters off New Zealand’s coast will be allowed to remain in the country while immigration officials process his case.
The man, 27, was rescued last week off the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, near the city of Gisborne.
Identified by The New Zealand Herald as Min Naing, the man told the newspaper that he was “just waiting to die” after water seeped into the immersion suit he had been wearing for hours. NBC News was unable to verify his identity.
He claimed that his family belonged to the Hindu minority in Myanmar. This is where the military took power in a coup on February 2. He also stated that they were involved in protests against the military. He stated that he would be in danger of his own life if he returned to Myanmar.
Min Naing was unable to be reached by NBC News for comment.
New Zealand police stated that they started a search-and-rescue operation on Nov. 2, after a man reported missing from the ship. The man had not been seen since the previous night.
Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics
Andrew Gaddum, chief operating officer for regional infrastructure at Eastland Group, which operates the Gisborne port, said port staff rescued the man about a mile and a half from shore.
“Our crew on the pilot vessel Rere Moana left around 3: 30 p.m. and were delighted and hugely relieved to spot him floating in the water an hour later,” he said. Officials later confirmed that the man was under police custody and had been admitted to hospital with hypothermia.
Fiona Whiteridge, general manager of refugee and migrant services at Immigration New Zealand, confirmed Thursday that the man was in the country “and can remain here lawfully while they go through immigration procedures to determine if they can stay in New Zealand.”
The agency did not say whether it had received any claim for asylum, citing confidentiality laws. New Zealand’s lawyers declined to comment on the matter.
Since the military seized power on Feb. 1, ousting democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, hundreds of thousands of people across Myanmar have been displaced by violence, while mass protests have been met with deadly force.
James Kariuki, Britain’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said this week that the military’s buildup in northwest Chin state resembled its activity in 2017 ahead of mass atrocities against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group long persecuted by the Myanmar government.
Rights organizations say that the humanitarian situation in Myanmar is rapidly deteriorating. Martin Griffiths, the United Nations undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, said this week that more than 3 million people were in need of aid.
“They’re in a very dangerous place,” Shamsul Alam, who is a member the Myanmar Rohingya community and lives in Auckland, New Zealand, said. “They must be rescued.”
Tin Ma Ma Oo spokeswoman for Democracy for Myanmar Working Group New Zealand. She said Min Naing’s sudden arrival might not be the first.
“We’ve received so many messages, emails,” she stated. People are desperate to know: How can we come to New Zealand? You need to get us out. Just get us out.”
“We had one crewman who messaged me and said, ‘I am currently working on a ship, if I jump the boat as well, do you think I would be able to seek asylum?'”
The group is petitioning Parliament to allow the resettlement of 1,000 refugees from Myanmar whose families are in New Zealand. New Zealand has an annual quota of 1,500 refugees, a relatively low number among Western democracies that refugee advocates and New Zealand’s Burmese community say the country should consider increasing in response to the Myanmar crisis.
Behrouz Boochani is a Kurdish-Iranian writer who has been a refugee advocate in New Zealand for many years. He said that the country was capable of doing more.
New Zealand should take more responsibility for supporting victims of human rights abuses, particularly those fleeing persecution. Boochani spent many years in Australia’s highly criticized offshore detention facility for asylum-seekers.
Alexander Gillespie is an international law professor at Waikato University, Hamilton, New Zealand. He said that he didn’t expect that it would happen and noted that New Zealand had not followed the example of Australia and the United States in increasing its refugee quota for people fleeing from the recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.
“If we couldn’t get an increased quota with Afghanistan, I think it’s unlikely we’ll get one with Myanmar,” he said.