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Rohingya refugees stranded in Andaman Sea ‘can lose lives’, warns UN

December 6, 2023 at 4:08 pm

Rohingya laborers unload firewood from a boat on December 23, 2021, in Sittwe, Rakhine State, Myanmar [Aung Naing Soe/Anadolu Agency]

Around 400 Rohingya refugees are stranded aboard two boats adrift in the Andaman Sea and “looking death in the eye”, the UNHCR refugee agency reported today.

“There are about 400 children, women and men looking death in the eye if there are no moves to save these desperate souls,” said Babar Baloch, the UNHCR regional spokesperson. He added that the exact whereabouts of the two boats is uncertain, and the country of their departure remained unclear. However, it seems that they have been at sea for at least two weeks.

“Our fear is that food and water, if they have not already run out, may be running out soon,” added Baloch. “Our fear is that people can lose their lives, and we’re talking about hundreds of people.”

The captain of one of the vessels, reached by Associated Press, reported having 180 to 190 people on board suffering from a shortage of food and water, and the engine has broken down. Identified as Maan Nokim, the captain expressed the concern that without assistance, everyone on board might perish.

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As of Sunday, Nokim indicated that the boat was located 200 miles (320km) from Thailand’s west coast, while the whereabouts of the other boat remained uncertain. When contacted on Monday, a Thai navy spokesperson claimed to have no information about the status of the boats.

The location provided by Nokim is approximately the same distance from Indonesia’s northernmost province of Aceh, where another boat carrying 139 individuals arrived on Sabang Island last Saturday, according to Baloch.

Over 750,000 Muslim Rohingya refugees have fled neighbouring Myanmar to Bangladesh since 2017, escaping genocide and mistreatment at the hands of the military, according to Human Rights Watch. Myanmar security forces face accusations of widespread atrocities, including mass rapes, killings and the burning of numerous Rohingya homes. International courts are currently assessing whether these actions amount to genocide.

Many refugees flee by sea, aiming to reach Malaysia, where they hope to secure employment in the Muslim-majority nation. However, according to the Guardian, if they enter Thailand’s territorial waters the authorities either refuse their entry or detain them. Indonesia, another Muslim-majority destination for many, also places refugees in detention.