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‘We are dying here’: Rohingya refugees drifting on boat for weeks

Governments called for launching a search and rescue mission amid reports of refugee deaths in boats adrift for weeks.

A group of politicians in Southeast Asia have urged regional governments to immediately launch a search and rescue operation for a ship reportedly carrying hundreds of Rohingya refugees that has been adrift in waters off the coasts of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and India for weeks.

The appeal by the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) came on Tuesday as Indian media said the ship, which could carry hundreds of refugees, including women and children , had drifted from the Malacca Strait into Indian waters off the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The Quint news website cited satellite coordinates that the captain of the stricken boat gave a Rohingya refugee, Mohamed Khan Rezuwan, in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar during a phone call on Sunday.

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“We are dying here,” the captain told Rezuwan, whose sister and five-year-old niece are also on the ship.

At least three people on board the ship had already died of starvation and dehydration, Rezuwan told India’s The Print newspaper.

“The situation is very worrying. They have no water or food,” she said.

The United Nations refugee agency highlighted the plight of the Rohingya refugees on the ship in early December when it called for an urgent search and rescue operation. At the time, the UN agency said the “unseaworthy” ship could carry up to 200 people, though Indian media reports put the figure at around 160.

In their statement on Tuesday, the group of Southeast Asian lawmakers called on member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other countries in the region to meet their humanitarian obligations and rescue those on board. ship’s.

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“It is shameful that a ship full of men, women and children in grave danger has been left adrift,” said Eva Sundari, APHR board member.

“Neglecting the people on the ship is nothing short of an affront to humanity,” he said.

The ship reportedly left Bangladesh, which is home to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled persecution in their home country of Myanmar, in late November with the aim of reaching Malaysia.

The ship has been adrift since December 1 when its engines failed and is one of several ships carrying refugees that have been reported adrift in recent weeks.

On December 8, a Vietnamese oil service ship rescued a ship carrying 154 Rohingya refugees off the coast of Thailand. The refugees were handed over to the Myanmar army.

On Sunday, the Sri Lankan navy rescued another boat carrying 104 refugees, including 39 women and 23 children. The navy said the small trawler had left Myanmar and was headed for Indonesia when she had engine trouble.

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The UN refugee agency reported earlier this month that there had been a “dramatic” increase in Rohingya refugees making dangerous boat journeys from Myanmar and Bangladesh to countries in Southeast Asia, partly due to deteriorating conditions. in the refugee camps in which they are confined in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. and Cox’s Bazar from Bangladesh.

An estimated 1,920 people, mostly Rohingya, left Myanmar and Bangladesh by sea between January and November this year, compared with just 287 in 2021, according to the UN.

Around 119 people were reported dead or missing on these trips, the UN added.

APHR said Tuesday that Southeast Asian states must address the root cause of the crisis, including pressing authorities in military-ruled Myanmar to restore citizenship to the Rohingya and repatriate the nearly 1 million refugees who They live in camps in Bangladesh.

“ASEAN and the wider international community have stood idly by for far too long as the tragedy of the Rohingya has unfolded over the years,” said Kasit Piromya, APHR board member and former ASEAN foreign minister. Thailand.

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“Those countries that claim to uphold human rights have a moral obligation to address the root causes of the human rights crisis afflicting the Rohingya, or these humanitarian tragedies will only be repeated over and over again.”

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