Malaysian Maritime Law Agency / PA
The Bangladesh Coast Guard said Thursday it had saved hundreds of hungry Rohingya refugees from a trawler that was drifting at sea. A survivor said at least 28 more people died in a two-month failed effort to reach Malaysia.
The refugees, mainly women and children, were intercepted Wednesday evening after the boat tried to land on the south-east coast of Bangladesh, near Cox’s Bazar, the lieutenant coast guard of Bangladesh, lieutenant Cmdr . Said Sohel Rana.
An official has been quoted by the Associated Press as saying that 382 survivors were on board, but Reuters reports that the number was later revised up to 396.
Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Shah Zia Rahman said tipping led to a three-day search for the ship, which he described as a “big, crowded trawler.”
“They were hungry,” he added.
“They floated for 58 days. And in the past seven days [the trawler] was moving through our territorial waters, “said the spokesperson.
Earlier this month, Malaysian Maritime Law Agency officials said they had arrested a boat carrying some 200 people, believed to be Rohingya refugees, to prevent it from touching the island. from Langkawi. It is unclear whether the trawler rescued in Bangladesh is the same.
One of the survivors, identified by The Dhaka Times According to the newspaper Md Jobair, the refugees went to sea two months earlier and approached the Malaysian coast. However, Jobair said that coronavirus restrictions in Malaysia prevented them from touching land and that the ship was forced to turn around.
“Since then we have drifted on the sea and without food or water, some 28 people have died on the boat,” he said. A local official estimated the death toll at 32.
A Bangladeshi intelligence official told the PA that he had spoken to at least 10 of the refugees. He said they told him that before they went to sea, they lived in Bangladeshi camps sheltering Rohingya Muslims who fled neighboring Myanmar.
The smugglers have become known to promising refugees who wish to travel safely to destinations in Southeast Asia. In 2015, a boat full of Rohingya refugees was stranded at sea for weeks after various governments in the region refused to allow them to disembark. Eventually, Malaysia and Indonesia gave in.
International observers say that Buddhist-majority Myanmar has long persecuted the Rohingya ethnic group, which is predominantly Muslim. Myanmar denies the allegation, although it has acknowledged the 2017 military crackdown on the group, which has caused the exodus of more than a million Rohingyas. Most of these refugees are still housed in refugee camps near the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan project, which defends the interests of the Rohingya, told Reuters that she thought there were more refugees stranded at sea.
“The Rohingyas could encounter closed borders supported by a xenophobic public narrative,” she said in a message to the news agency. “COVID-19 cannot be used to deny desperate refugees in distress access to the territory. “