least two dozen ethnic Rohingya died on a ship that drifted for weeks
after failing to reach Malaysia, Bangladesh coastguard officials said on
Thursday, following the rescue of 396 starving survivors.
years, Rohingya from Myanmar have boarded boats organised by smugglers
in the hope of finding refuge in Southeast Asia, usually making voyages
during the dry season from November to March, when the waters are calm.
human rights group said it believed more boats carrying Rohingya, a
Muslim minority group, were adrift at sea, with coronavirus lockdowns in
Malaysia and Thailand making it harder for them to find refuge.
were at sea for about two months and were starving,” a Bangladesh
coastguard official told Reuters in a message, adding that the ship was
brought to shore late on Wednesday.
The 396 survivors aboard would
be sent to Myanmar, said the official, who revised the number upwards
from an initial count of 382.
Video images showed a crowd
comprised mostly of women and children, some stick-thin and unable to
stand, being helped to shore. One emaciated man lay on the sand.
refugee told a reporter the group had been turned back from Malaysia
three times and a fight had broken out onboard between passengers and
crew at one point.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar does not recognise
Rohingya as citizens, and the face severe curbs on freedom of movement
as well as access to healthcare and education.
persecuting Rohingya and says they are not an indigenous ethnic group
but immigrated from South Asia, despite many being able to trace their
ancestry back centuries.
More than a million live in refugee camps
in southern Bangladesh, the majority having been driven from homes in
Myanmar after a 2017 military crackdown the army said was a response to
attacks by Rohingya insurgents.
groups fear virus curbs across southeast Asia could trigger a repeat of
a 2015 crisis, when a crackdown by Thailand prompted smugglers to
abandon their human cargo at sea on crowded, rickety boats.
Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, said she believed several more boats were stranded.
“Rohingya may encounter closed borders supported by a xenophobic public narrative,” she said in a message.
cannot be used to deny access to territory to desperate refugees in
distress. Another maritime crisis in the Andaman Sea, as in 2015, is
Several boats were trying to reach Malaysian shores
and monitoring had been stepped up, a police official in the
northwestern state of Kedah told Reuters.
A police official in
southern Thailand said five boats carrying Rohingya had been spotted off
the coast of Satun province late on Monday. It was not possible to
independently confirm the remarks.
People were smuggled out by
boat and over land, said Kyaw Hla, a Rohingya from Sittwe in Myanmar’s
Rakhine state, where tens of thousands of Rohingya have been confined in
camps since a bout of violence in 2012.
“Within these eight
years, there has been no progress, only degradation,” he said by
telephone. “People can’t stand it. Since we are locked up and
suffocated, people try to leave, of course.”
He added, “If the coronavirus breaks out here, we’ll be as good as dead.”