SOS from 250 Rohingyas stuck in Malacca Strait

180 reported missing from the Andaman Sea
Representational image. AFP file photo

Two boats carrying around 250 Rohingyas are calling for rescue after getting stranded in the Malacca Strait due to engine failures, while another boat carrying some 180 Rohingyas went missing from the Andaman Sea.

Three boats -- the first carrying 160 Rohingyas, the second 95, and the third 180-- started from the coast of Cox's Bazar in the last week of November.

In the rough sea, the boat engines got damaged, said Saiful Arakani, a Rohingya journalist, who spoke to the stranded Rohingyas over satellite phone used by the boatmen.

"Due to heavy winds, the boats drifted in the Andaman Sea for some days. They ended up in the Malacca Strait of Indonesia," Saiful Arakani told The Daily Star by phone.

The other boat with 180 Rohingyas, which was also drifting in the Andaman Sea, has been missing for the last few days.

"Several of the Rohingyas have also died and those who are alive have no food. Many have fallen sick. If they are not rescued soon, there is a risk many could die in the sea," Saiful said in an appeal to the regional countries.

Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project rights group, which has interviewed the families of those onboard, said the boat was leaking and there is no water or food.

"We have information about where it was. It is lucky this boat has a satphone," she said, adding that despite this, no help had been given.

Mohammed Rezuwan Khan, a Rohingya activist, said his older sister and her five-year-old daughter were among those onboard the boat.

"They need to be urgently rescued because they don't have food or water," he said.

People smugglers take advantage of the Rohingyas' vulnerability and desperation to traffic them to Indonesia and Malaysia during the winter season when the sea is comparatively calm.

On December 2, the UN Refugee Agency issued a warning over the dramatic increase in the number of people attempting to cross the Andaman Sea, from Bangladesh and Myanmar.

It said these journeys are exposing people to grave risks and fatal consequences. At least 119 people have been reported dead or missing on these journeys, this year alone.

Most of those risking their lives are Rohingya refugees, who fled Myanmar in hundreds of thousands in 2017, to escape military persecution and took shelter in Bangladesh. it is now home to some 1.2 million Rohingyas.


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