Rohingyas say deaths at sea unlikely to stop unless they are repatriated

Dhaka, Jan 18 (EFE).- Rohingyas in Bangladesh said on Wednesday that repatriation to Myanmar with full rights was the only solution to their woes, a day after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported the death or disappearance of at least 348 members of the stateless community in 2022 while trying to cross perilous sea routes to a third country.

In a report released on Tuesday, UNHCR said that more than 3,500 Rohingya refugees embarked on sea journeys in 39 boats in the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal in 2022, representing a 360 percent increase on the previous year, when some 700 people made similar journeys.

Some 3,040 individuals who undertook the sea journey disembarked in 2022, primarily in Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Bangladesh, the report said.

Nearly 45 percent of those who disembarked were women and children, it added.

The situation worsened in November and December, when four boats carrying more than 450 Rohingya landed on the coast of Aceh in Indonesia, another vessel carrying 100 people disembarked in Sri Lanka, and yet another with 180 passengers is feared to have sunk.

Hatamonesa, 27, and her five-year-old daughter, Umme Salima, were in one such boat that reached Aceh in Indonesia on Dec. 26 after more than a month at sea, during which 26 people jumped to their deaths, her brother Ruzuwan Khan, who is also a Rohingya activist, told EFE, quoting survivors.

“My sister was abandoned by her husband in Myanmar in 2016. We presume he is dead. Since 2017, she had lived in camp 4 (in Bangladesh). On Nov. 25, she embarked on a boat to Malaysia with 180 other people, mostly Rohingyas,” Khan said.

Khan said Hatamonesa paid a Rohingya trafficker 100,000 taka ($1,000) for her and her daughter’s journey. A few days after they got off the bus in Teknaf in Bangladesh, they informed the trafficker that they were stranded at sea.

“Traffickers initially did not tell us anything. They tried to resolve the matter on their own. But when things slipped out of their control, they informed us on Dec. 4 to draw the attention of the international community,” Khan said.

Khan added that the boat was in Indian waters when they made an appeal for their rescue.

“Following our appeal, the Indian Navy gave them some food and towed them to Indonesian waters. The boat came upon the Thai navy and many Thai fishing boats at sea. Many of them jumped into the sea in the hope that the Thai navy or a fishing boat would rescue them. But that did not happen,” he said.

“Twenty-six people died this way. In the end, Indonesia allowed them to land…they undertook the journey despite knowing the risks because there was no life for Rohingyas here. It’s an open-air prison for us. Either we need to go back to Myanmar with full rights or resettle in a third country for a better life,” he added.

Rohingya activist Rezia Sultana echoed Khan, saying that the risky sea-bound journeys were unlikely to stop until Rohingyas were repatriated to Myanmar from the camps in Bangladesh.

“It has been five years since they were here. Things are getting restricted day by day. They have no economic independence, and aid is getting reduced. There is no access to formal education. They think they have no future. Their life is stuck. That is why many of them take this risk,” Rezia said.

“They think we will die either here or there. Until they are repatriated to Myanmar, they will continue to take this (risk) for a better life somewhere else,” she added.

According to the UN refugee agency, Bangladesh is home to over 920,000 Rohingya refugees, including around 738,000 who fled Myanmar after August 2017 following a wave of violence and persecution by the military, a campaign flagged by the UN as ethnic cleansing and an attempt at genocide.

Two attempts to start the repatriation of the refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar failed as the Rohingyas refused to return home without citizenship and security guarantees. EFE


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