UNHCR calls for immediate rescue of Rohingyas adrift in Andaman Sea

Bangkok, Dec. 8 (EFE).- The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Thursday called for an immediate rescue of some 200 Rohingyas – a Muslim minority persecuted in Myanmar – who are adrift on a boat with little provision in the Andaman Sea.

The UN agency said in a statement that the passengers “have been without food and water for days and are suffering extreme dehydration,” and urged the authorities of the countries in the area to ensure they can “safely disembark.”

“The priority must now be to save lives and avoid even greater tragedy,” stressed UNHCR.

Reports suggest the boat carrying the ethnic Muslim minority refugees from Myanmar set sail from Bangladesh, and has been adrift since Dec.1, after its engines broke down.

Bangladesh is home to more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled neighboring Myanmar, including around 728,000 who escaped a wave of violence and persecution by the Myanmar military launched in August 2017, a campaign that has resulted in allegations of ethnic cleansing and genocidal intent.

The nonprofit Arakan Project’s head Chris Lewa told EFE Wednesday that the ship left sometime between Nov.25 and 26, and emitted a distress call on Sunday after engine failure.

Lewa added that the vessel was carrying at least around 150 people, and at least four of them are believed to have died.

She further said that after talking to relatives of some of the people on board, they were able to locate the vessel in waters near Thailand, but at this point it may have moved closer to India or Malaysia.

The countries that have a coastline in the Andaman Sea are India, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

On Wednesday, Tun Khin, head of the nonprofit Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, urged the authorities of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia to intervene to save the stranded Rohingyas.

At least 119 Rohingyas have died or gone missing this year while trying to flee Bangladesh and Myanmar on dozens of boats seeking to Malaysia, according to UNHCR data.

The boats carrying Rohingya refugees often leave for destinations in Malaysia and Indonesia, especially since they are Muslim majority countries.

In 2015, thousands of Rohingya were adrift on boats for weeks until the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to let them land on their shores.

The Myanmar authorities do not recognize Rohingyas as citizens, but see them as Bangladeshi immigrants, and have for years subjected them to all forms of discrimination, including restrictions on freedom of movement, and access to health and education. EFE


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