DHAKA, Dec 26 – The possible sinking of a boat in recent weeks with 180 Rohingya Muslims on board could make 2022 one of the community’s deadliest years at sea in nearly a decade, a U.N. agency said. refugees try to escape desperate conditions in Bangladeshi camps.
Nearly 1 million Rohingya from Myanmar live in overcrowded facilities in predominantly Muslim Bangladesh, including tens of thousands who fled their home country after a deadly crackdown by the country’s military in 2017.
The number of Rohingya fleeing Bangladesh by boat this year has more than quintupled from the previous year to nearly 2,400, rights groups estimate. It is unclear whether the lifting of COVID restrictions in Southeast Asia, a popular destination, has led to the rush of people.
In predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, most Rohingya are denied citizenship and are considered illegal immigrants from South Asia.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it feared the ship, which set sail in late November, was missing, with all 180 on board believed to be dead.
UNHCR said the vessel may have started cracking in early December before losing contact. It added that it was unclear where the boat started, but three Rohingya, including one whose family was on board, said it had set out from Bangladesh.
Nearly 200 Rohingya are feared dead or missing at sea this year. “Despite the hope that the 180 missing are still alive somewhere,” UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said.
Thai authorities said four women and one man were found floating near the Thai island of Surin and another woman in the Similan Islands and were rescued by fishermen. The authorities have not yet confirmed their identities.
A local fisherman told Reuters that he and his crew rescued people hanging from a floating water tank.
UNHCR’s Baloch said 2022 was one of the worst years for the dead and missing after 2013 and 2014, when 900 and 700 Rohingya died or disappeared in the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal, respectively, after intercommunal violence forced them to flee.
“LEFT TO DO”
Sayedur Rahman, 38, who fled to Malaysia in 2012 from Myanmar, said his wife and three children were among those missing on the boat.
“In 2017, my family came to Bangladesh to save their lives,” Rahman said. “But now they are all gone… I am totally devastated… We left the Rohingya to die… on land, on sea. Everywhere.”
Bangladesh has a history of arresting people smugglers. The densely populated country has also asked the international community to help ease the burden of hosting so many refugees.
Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, which works to support the Rohingya, told Reuters that a boat with an estimated 160-190 passengers adrift several weeks after leaving Bangladesh landed in Indonesia’s Aceh province on Monday night.
Earlier this month, she said many people from the same boat may have died of hunger or thirst.
“It is outrageous that they were left afloat for almost four weeks, either completely ignored without food and water or taken to Indonesia,” Lewa said.
Indonesian officials did not respond to a request for comment.
About 57 more Rohingya arrived in Aceh on Sunday after nearly a month of wandering. Two other boats carrying a total of 230 Rohingya landed off the coast of Aceh last month, while this month the Sri Lankan Navy rescued 104 Rohingya.
“Life in the camp is full of uncertainty, there is no hope that they will be able to return home soon,” said Mohammed Imran, a former leader of the Rohingya community who returned to Bangladesh from Malaysia.