Deadliest year for Rohingya at sea in years when 180 people are said to have drowned


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugees are rescued by fishermen on a boat behind a patrol boat near the coast of Seunuddon in North Aceh, Indonesia, June 24, 2020. Antara Foto/Rahmad/via REUTERS/File Photo


By Krishna N. Das and Ruma Paul

NEW DELHI/DHAKA (Reuters) – The possibility of a boat sinking in recent weeks with 180 Rohingya Muslims on board could make 2022 one of the deadliest years at sea for nearly a decade. with the community, a United Nations agency said, as refugees try to flee desperate conditions in camps in Bangladesh.

Nearly 1 million Rohingya from Myanmar are living in crowded facilities in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, including tens of thousands who have fled their homeland after the country’s military launched a mass protest. deadly pressure in 2017.

The number of Rohingya leaving Bangladesh by boat this year has increased more than fivefold from a year earlier, human rights groups estimate. It’s unclear whether lifting COVID restrictions in Southeast Asia, a popular destination, will lead to people flocking.

In majority Buddhist Myanmar, most Rohingya are denied citizenship and are considered illegal immigrants from South Asia.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) over the weekend said it was concerned that a boat that set sail in late November was missing, with all 180 people on board presumed dead.

UNHCR said the ship, not seaworthy, may have begun to crack in early December before losing contact. It added that it was unclear where the boat started, but three Rohingya men, including one who feared he had lost four family members, said it departed from Bangladesh.

Nearly 200 Rohingya are believed to have died or gone missing at sea this year. “We hope that the 180 missing people are still alive somewhere,” UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told Reuters.

He said 2022 was one of the worst years in terms of deaths and disappearances after 2013 when 900 Rohingya died or went missing in the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal, and 2014 with 700 dead or missing.

The number of boats departing from the Bay of Bengal increased sharply between 2012 and 2014 following inter-community violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, home to many Rohingya.

Sayedur Rahman, 38, who fled to Malaysia in 2012 from Myanmar, said his wife, two sons aged 17 and 13, and a 12-year-old daughter were among those missing on board.

“In 2017, my family went to Bangladesh to save their lives,” Rahman said. “But now they’re gone… I’m completely devastated… We Rohingya are left to die… on land, at sea. Everywhere.”

Earlier this month, two Rohingya activist groups in Myanmar said up to 20 people died of starvation on a boat carrying at least 100 people, which ran aground for two weeks off the coast of India, before it could drift. washed up in Malaysian waters.

India’s coast guard had no immediate response. UNHCR said it was a separate boat with the one carrying 180 people.

On Monday, the International Organization for Migration said 57 Rohingya disembarked in Indonesia’s Aceh Besar district on December 25. The organization said the boat, carrying only men and boys, was believed to be left Bangladesh and drifted for almost a month.

Indonesian officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Two boats carrying a total of 230 Rohingya refugees, including women and children, docked on the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh province in November, while this month the Sri Lankan navy rescued 104 Rohingya. .

“Life in the camp is full of turmoil, there is no hope that they can return home anytime soon,” said Mohammed Imran, a former leader of the Rohingya community who returned to Bangladesh from Malaysia.


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