Bangladesh rescues 396 Rohingyas adrift at sea

(Update 1: updates headline, number of Rohingyas and other details)

By Azad Majumder

Dhaka, Apr 16 (efe-epa).- Authorities in Bangladesh said on Thursday they have rescued 396 Rohingyas trying to enter the country in a boat from the southern coast, after 58 days at sea.

The Coastguard said in a statement they found a total of 396 Rohingyas – 150 men, 182 women and 64 children – in a large fishing trawler near Baharchara coast in Cox’s Bazar late Wednesday.

Most of them had left refugee camps in Bangladesh to try and reach Malaysia but were unable enter the country or any other place, and decided to return, coastguard spokesperson Lieutenant commander Hamidul Islam told EFE.

“They have told us they left Bangladesh about two months ago for Malaysia and were joined by some other Rohingyas from Myanmar’s Arakan on their way,” he added.

Islam said the coastguard officials learned that at least 28 people died from lack of food and water while at sea, and the bodies had been dumped into the sea.

They were detained by Malaysian Coastguard, while trying to enter the country and were sent back “with some food, water and fuel,” said the statement by the Bangladesh coastguard.

“Later they tried to enter Myanmar but Myanmar Navy detained them and pushed (them) towards Bangladesh,” it further said, adding that the rescued Rohingyas had now been handed to over to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR thanked the local officials for providing support to the Rohingyas aboard the vessel.

“These men, women and children were at sea for nearly two months in harrowing conditions and that many of them are extremely malnourished and dehydrated,” UNHCR spokesperson Louise Donovan told EFE.

Donovan refuted local media reports that these Rohingyas were infected with the novel coronavirus, describing the claims as “unsubstantiated.”

“We have offered the government to assist and move these people to quarantine facilities, whether they can receive medical attention and also they can have a medical screening,” she said.

Bangladesh sealed its border with Myanmar in March and put Rohingya refugee camps in country’s southern Cox’s Bazar district under complete lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections.

However, no cases have been reported yet from the Rohingya camps. The only positive case until now from the Cox’s Bazar region – that of a 65-year old woman – has been cured, according to heath officials.

Nearly 738,000 Rohingya refugees are living in camps in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, 2017, following a wave of persecution and violence in Myanmar that the UN has described as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing and possible genocide.

Undocumented Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants have been using the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea in order to reach other countries in a quest for a better life.

At least 15 Rohingyas were killed in February, when a boat carrying them sank off the coast of Bangladesh while on its way to Malaysia. EFE-EPA


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