The UN refugee agency on Monday called for immediate efforts to search and rescue a group of Rohingya refugees stranded in the Andaman Sea in the Indian Ocean.
The precise location of the vessel carrying the refugees is not known.
“We have alerted the authorities of the relevant maritime states of these reports and appealed for their swift assistance, should the vessel be found in their area of responsibility for search and rescue. Immediate action is needed to save lives and prevent further tragedy,” said Indrika Ratwatte, the director of the UNHCR Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific.
Urging immediate action to prevent the looming tragedy, the UNHCR said there are reports that many refugees may have already lost their lives.
They are running out of food and water for several days now and many of the passengers are ill, the agency said.
The refugees sent out the last distress call on Saturday evening, it said, adding they reportedly left Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf in southern Bangladesh almost 10 days ago.
“The vessel has reported been adrift after the engine broke down, more than a week ago,” UNHCR said.
“Many are in a highly vulnerable condition and are apparently suffering from extreme dehydration. We understand that a number of refugees have already lost their lives and that fatalities have risen over the past 24 hours,” said Ratwatte.
The Andaman Sea lies to the southeast of the Bay of Bengal, south of Myanmar, west of Thailand, and east of India’s Andaman and the Nicobar Islands.
'Saving lives must be the priority'
Ratwatte urged the regional governments to deploy their search and rescue teams and promptly disembark those in distress, saying “as always, saving lives must be the priority.”
“In line with international obligations under the law of the sea and longstanding maritime traditions, the duty to rescue persons in distress at sea should be upheld, irrespective of nationality or legal status,” he said.
Ratwatte said UNHCR is ready to support governments across the region in providing any necessary humanitarian assistance and quarantine measures in the coming days for those disembarked, in line with public health protocols.
“The fact that refugees and migrants continue to undertake fatal journeys accentuates the need for immediate and collective regional response to the search, rescue, and disembarkation,” he added.
According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women, and children fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017.
Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, entitled Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience.
As many as 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes burned down, while 113,000 others were vandalized, it added./aa