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United Nations Raises Alert on Stranded Rohingya Refugees; South-East Asian Countries Urged to Take Action

Darren Maung
Darren is an aspiring writer who wishes to share or create stories to the world and bring humanity together as one. A massive Star Wars nerd and history buff, he finds enjoyable, heart-warming or interesting subjects in any written media.
Published: December 19, 2022
Members of Bangladesh security personnel stand guard beside Rohingya refugees rescued from the sea after a Malaysia bound boat sank off the Bangladesh coast in Teknaf on Oct. 4, 2022. At least three people drowned and nearly 20 others were missing off the Bangladesh coast after a boat carrying Rohingya refugees sank in rough weather on Oct. 4. (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

On Dec. 19, the United Nations alerted South-East Asian governments to liberate around 150 Rohingya refugees stranded on a drifting boat in the Andaman Sea.

Three weeks since the vessel was shut down, no attempts have been made to rescue the refugees, leaving them at dire risk of starvation and dehydration.

Left to drift

In a statement issued on Dec.9, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNCHR) reported that the Rohingya refugees were left stranded after their boat’s engines failed on Dec. 1. For three weeks, the fishing boat has been floating helplessly at sea, believed to be heading for Malaysia.

“Those on board have been without food and water for days and are suffering extreme dehydration,” the statement read.

“There is a significant risk of additional fatalities in the coming days if people are not rescued and disembarked to safety,” it added, with claims that people were already dying on board.

An activist aiding Rohingya in Bangladesh told the BBC that he had contacted someone on board the boat on Dec. 18. A refugee told him that people were indeed starving to death, having not eaten anything in a week.

In addition to depleting supplies, the boat offers very little shelter for the refugees.

According to the UNHCR, there was a “dramatic” rise of Rohingya refugees taking to boats to flee the persecution and atrocities allegedly committed by the military government of Myanmar. This appeared to have been triggered by a crisis in the Andaman Sea, which saw Myanmar and the UN in a spat over the Rohingya minority group.

“Seven years after the Andaman Sea Crisis, which saw an extensive loss of lives, Rohingya people continue to risk everything in dangerous journeys to escape persecution at home in military-run Myanmar, and the abysmal conditions in Bangladeshi refugee camps,” Amnesty International’s Southeast Asia Researcher Rachel Chhoa-Howard said in a statement, according to al-Jazeera.

Around 1,920 people, mainly Rohingya, made harrowing journeys between January and November this year — a huge leap from the 287 recorded the year before. In the midst of the escapes, some 119 people were reported to have died or gone missing, the UNHCR said.

The UNHCR said that “International humanitarian law requires the rescue of people at sea when they are in distress, and their delivery to a place of safety. Swift action is needed to protect lives. Further delays to alleviate this suffering or any attempts to send Rohingya back to Myanmar where they face persecution are unconscionable.”

Elsewhere, Sri Lanka’s navy reported that they have rescued 104 Rohingya on the island’s northern coast. 

VOA News reported that cramped refugee camps in Bangladesh — where Rohingya refugees often escape to — experience gang violence, sparking disarray within the transit to refugee boats.


Rohingya crisis

Ever since the military crackdown on its Rohingya ethnic minority, the Myanmar government has been the subject of controversy within South-East Asia and on the world stage. Those within their home state of Rakhine have been said to be taken to internment camps and are deprived of essential aid, Amnesty International claims.

On Dec. 15, a top UN committee blocked Myanmar from obtaining a seat at the organization in response to the government’s treatment of the Rohingya.

The same day, the U.S. government announced a resettlement initiative for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, providing more than $1.9 billion in humanitarian aid, while also holding the Myanmar government accountable for its atrocities. 

Japan has also pledged $3.7 million in assistance for refugees on the island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal, aimed at providing health services to women and girls in the area, the Japanese Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, said.