New Delhi, December 21
In what appears to be a repeat of the incident in February last year, two long-time Rohingya activist groups have claimed that a boat carrying 90 refugees and a three-member crew has drifted into India’s territorial waters off Andaman Islands.
The activists have claimed that the Indian side is aware of the stranded boat with 100 ethnic Rohingya and several of them — as many as 16-20 — could have died of thirst or from drowning.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has already raised the alarm. Its regional chief Indrika Ratwatte had urged the countries in the area — India, Bangladesh and Myanmar — to begin an immediate search following an “unconfirmed number of Rohingya refugees aboard a vessel in distress as of the evening of Saturday February 20”.
Lakhs of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar since 2018 due to repeated military crackdowns that have included summary executions and rape.
“We estimate that probably 20 have died… some from hunger and thirst, and others jumped overboard in desperation. This is absolutely awful and outrageous,” said Chris Lewa, who heads the Arakan Project which has been working among the Rohingya for decades.
“We heard late last night that there were some Indian vessels approaching the boat so we are awaiting updates now. We hope the Indian Navy or Coast Guard will manage to rescue and disembark the boat as soon as possible. These people have been adrift on a damaged boat for more than 2 weeks without food and water. We have heard that up to 16 may have already died,” said Lilianne Fan, chair of Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network’s Rohingya Working Group.
The Sri Lankan navy had rescued over a 100 similarly stranded Rohingya last week.
Lewa said her organisation had informed the UNHCR and the Western embassies in Dhaka.
“Indian Coast Guard patrols have traced the Rohingya boat 40 km east of Rangat in the Andamans. They should save them by taking them to safe shelter with food, water and medical treatment,” said Lewa.
“They told me that three onboard the boat died on Saturday and five on Monday — all victims suffered from acute diarrhoea after consuming sea water,” added Lewa.
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