At least 180 ethnic Rohingya who had left Bangladesh by boat in November may have died after being stranded for about a month in an unseaworthy vessel with no food or water, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).
The boat had reportedly departed from the coast of Cox’s Bazar district for Malaysia and became stranded due to engine failure.
“The UNHCR has received unconfirmed reports of a…boat with 180 Rohingya missing in the sea. Relatives have lost contact. Those last in touch presume all are dead. We hope against hope this is not the case,” it said in a tweet on Saturday.
The development came after repeated UN calls for rescuing the persecuted Rohingya seemed to have failed.
“This ill-fated boat had started its journey at the end of November, at the same time as the one rescued in Sri Lankan waters. Unconfirmed reports suggest the unseaworthy vessel had started to crack in early December before losing contact,” said the UNHCR.
“If true, this will be devastating news,” the UN agency continued, adding: “Our heart goes out to all the families who would have lost loved ones in this shocking tragedy. We repeat our pleas to the States in the region to help save lives. This must be a priority.”
The UNHCR in a statement on Dec. 23 said that 190 desperate people were on the verge of perishing at sea, adrift somewhere between the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal as pleas to Asian countries to rescue and disembark them are continuously ignored.
If true, this would take the number of dead and missing in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea to nearly 200 this year alone, it said.
According to media reports and information from human rights organizations, Rohingya refugees in two other boats that had been adrift at sea for the past few weeks have been rescued.
Some 154 refugees in a boat were rescued by a Vietnamese oil service vessel on Dec. 8 and handed over to the Myanmar navy, while the other boat carrying 104 refugees was rescued by the Sri Lankan navy on Dec. 18 in Kankesanturai Harbor.
Md. Nur Khan Liton, a prominent human rights defender, recently told Anadolu Agency that three or four engine-run boats left the coast of Cox’s Bazar in November with at least 400 Rohingya refugees on board.
Bangladesh has been providing shelter to 1.2 million Rohingya refugees on its southeast coast in Cox’s Bazar since a refugee influx in 2017 due to a Myanmar military crackdown.
Refugees undertake perilous sea voyages to reach Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Rohingya hope to return to their home country Myanmar, which remains under the control of the junta government.