Activists and rights organizations have raised the alarm as at least 20 Rohingyas are estimated to have died, as of December 20, due to hunger, thirst, or illness on a boat stranded in the Andaman Sea. At least 160 Rohingya refugees were on the boat, which had set off from Bangladesh for Indonesia, before being damaged and becoming stranded somewhere in the Andaman Sea near the Strait of Malacca.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the boat has been adrift at sea since late November. Survivors have no access to food, water, or medication.
On December 18, the captain of the stranded boat gave satellite coordinates to another refugee living in Bangladesh: “We are dying here. We haven’t eaten anything for 8 to 10 days. We are starving. Three of us have died. We are in Andaman, India. The sea currents have swept us out of the Malacca Strait and into the Bay of Bengal,” the distressed refugee said while making an emergency call.
In a statement, Eva Sundari, a member of the board of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, emphasized that “it is disgraceful that a boat filled with men, women, and children in grave danger has been allowed to remain adrift. Neglecting the people on the boat is nothing short of an affront to humanity.”
“Those on board have been without food and water for days and are suffering extreme dehydration,” the UNHCR has said.
This is not the first such incident to have taken place this month. According to reports, two boats packed with at least 258 refugees from Myanmar were found adrift in ASEAN waters over the last few weeks. However, timely intervention made their rescue possible. A boat reportedly carrying 154 refugees was rescued by a Vietnamese oil service vessel on December 8. Those aboard were handed over to the Myanmar navy, and it is unclear what awaits them. Another similarly stranded boat with 104 refugees on board was rescued by the Sri Lankan navy on December 18.
Ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas
The decades-long persecution the Rohingyas have faced in Myanmar has only escalated after the ethnic community was rendered stateless by the authorities in the 1990s. The renewed structural violence they face at the hands of the military has culminated in a mass exodus.
Since 2017, more than 740,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring states, fearing for their lives. Human rights bodies accuse Myanmar’s army of carrying out textbook examples of ethnic cleansing.
Several UN investigations have accused junta forces of being directly involved in “widespread theft, extortion, arbitrary arrests, and forced labor, in addition to the ill-treatment and sexual violence perpetrated against the Rohingyas.
Desperate socio-economic conditions coupled with the ongoing fighting between the junta and anti-coup fighters continue to push hundreds of Rohingyas into the hands of those who might be able to smuggle them into nearby countries like Malaysia, often through the Andaman Sea. Fleeing Rohingyas have often found themselves persecuted even by those they have sought asylum from, and returned to dangerous situations.