Exactly a month after they sailed out of Bangladesh’s coastal region of Cox’s Bazar, more than 80 Muslim Rohingya refugees remain stranded in a boat in the Andaman Sea.
Human rights activists have said that Indian Coast Guards have provided the refugees with food, drinking water and medical attention but not allowed the boat ashore.
“That is perhaps because India is negotiating with Bangladesh to take back these refugees. But since Bangladesh has refused to take them back as their boat was tracked far away from the Andamans, the fate of the Rohingyas is uncertain,” a Thailand-based human rights activist, who heads a project on the minorities, said on the condition of anonymity.
The activists said that one month at sea in a ramshackle boat may be “a real tough proposition” for anybody.
Eight of the 90 Rohingyas who set sail (65 women, 20 men and five minors) have already died of diarrhoea and dehydration after the boat’s engine developed trouble on Feb 18, a week into their journey towards South-east Asia.
Eighty-one Rohingyas, mostly women, were reported to be on the boat with three Bangladesh crew members when the rights activists lost contact. The survivors confirmed eight deaths on the boat before they lost contact.
The satellite phone on the boat has either been seized by the Indian Coast Guards or developed technical trouble, the rights activist said.
“We thank the Indian Coast Guards for providing immediate relief, but New Delhi should either negotiate the boat’s return to Bangladesh with the Rohingyas or take them ashore to a camp for better medical care. This is a humanitarian situation,” the activist said.
The UN has also called for appropriate measures and relief . Indian authorities confirmed 47 Rohingyas on the boat had UNHCR-issued refugee cards given out in Bangladesh.
“Our real worry is over possibilities of handing over the Rohingyas to Myanmar where they originally hail from if Bangladesh refuses to take them back and India does not take them ashore. Myanmar, which recently took back more than 1,000 Rohingyas from Malaysia, may agree to take them against their will,” the rights activist said.
But there has been no update on the condition of survivors on the boat and it was also not clear if it had been repaired.
Boats carrying Rohingya refugees have regularly drifted towards India’s Andaman Islands and received immediate shelter until now.