About 382 Rohingya refugees aboard a large boat have been rescued after floating for nearly two months along Bangladesh’s territorial waters. More than 30 of the refugees had died on board because of starvation.
The refugees were rescued by the Bangladesh’s coastguard on Wednesday, who responded after they were tipped-off, spokesman Lieutenant Shah Zia Rahman said.
“We have rescued at least 382 Rohingya from a big overcrowded fishing trawler and brought them to a beach near [the coastal town of]Teknaf. They were starving,” Rahman said, adding that
“They were floating for 58 days. And over the last seven days it was moving in our territorial waters,” he said.
The Dhaka Tribune local newspaper reported that they were thought to be from refugee camps on Bangladesh’s south-east coast, and were headed to Malaysia but turned back when that country implemented a strict coastal patrol due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Rahman said authorities would investigate the possibility that the refugees could also have come from the Rohingya homeland in Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state, where they are a persecuted Muslim minority.
Those rescued reported that 32 Rohingya died aboard and that their bodies were thrown in the sea, the official said.
“We have cordoned off the place where they have landed. We could not question them because of the fear they could be infected with the coronavirus,” he said.
Footage posted on Facebook by a local journalist showed mostly women and children, emaciated and standing on the beach.
A local government administrator said officials were still counting the rescued but that he feared the number could exceed 400. The Dhaka Tribune said the ship was packed with nearly 500 Rohingya.
Nearly a million Rohingya live in squalid camps near Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar, many fleeing the neighbouring country after a brutal military crackdown began in 2017.
With few opportunities for jobs and education in the camps, thousands have attempted to reach other countries such as Malaysia and Thailand.
Since late last year, Bangladesh’s law enforcement agencies have picked up some 1,000 Rohingya from coastal villages and boats as they waited to board vessels bound for Malaysia. (Source: The Guardian)