Dhaka, April 16 (IANS) Authorities in Bangladesh said on Thursday they have detained 382 members of the Rohingya Muslim minority trying to enter the country in a boat from the southern coast, after two months adrift at sea.
Most of these Rohingya had left the refugee camps in Bangladesh to try and reach Malaysia but were unable enter the country or any other place, and decided to return, according to the coastguard spokesperson Lieutenant commander Hamidul Islam.
“Last night we detained them when they were trying to enter to Bangladesh. They were 382 people on the boat,” Islam told Efe news.
“They told us that they left Bangladesh about two months ago for Malaysia and were joined by some other Rohingya from Myanmar’s Arakan on their way,” he added.
Islam said the coastguard officials learned that at least 28 people died from lack of food and water while at sea, and the bodies had been dumped into the water.
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees thanked the local officials for providing support to the Rohingya aboard the vessel.
“These men, women and children were at sea for nearly two months in harrowing conditions and that many of them are extremely malnourished and dehydrated,” UNHCR spokesperson Louise Donovan told Efe news.
Donovan refuted local media reports that these Rohingya were infected with the novel coronavirus, describing the claims as “unsubstantiated”.
“We have offered the government to assist and move these people to quarantine facilities, whether they can receive medical attention and also they can have a medical screening,” she said.
Bangladesh sealed its border with Myanmar in March and put Rohingya refugee camps in country’s southern Cox’s Bazar district under complete lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections.
However, no cases have been reported yet from the Rohingya camps. The only positive case until now from the Cox’s Bazar region – that of a 65-year old woman – has been cured, according to heath officials.
Nearly 738,000 Rohingya refugees are living in camps in Bangladesh since August 25, 2017, following a wave of persecution and violence in Myanmar that the UN has described as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing and possible genocide.
Undocumented Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants have been using the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea in order to reach other countries in a quest for a better life.
At least 15 Rohingya were killed in February, when a boat carrying them sank off the coast of Bangladesh while on its way to Malaysia.