“We are dying please save us”
Rohingya people have been adrift in the Andaman sea for weeks
“We have been floating here in the Andaman Sea with no food. We are starving, and many people are dying. Please help us!” said an unnamed Rohingya passenger, calling from a boat packed with migrants on December 18, 2022.
Mohammad Redwan, a Rohingya in Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh, who is in contact with people in the boat, states, “There are 200 Rohingyas: 60 men and 140 children and women, including my sister and a five-year-old niece. More than 20 people have already died.”
“These are human beings—men, women, and children,” said one U.N. expert. “We need to see the states in the region help save lives and not let people die.”
The boat departed from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh and intended to journey to Indonesia, but the engine broke on Indian waters, and the Indian navy pushed them toward Thailand. The vessel had to navigate around territorial waters of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia since each nation refused to provide them sanctuary.
“We urgently call on ASEAN member states and other countries in the region to fulfill their humanitarian obligations and launch search and rescue operations for the boat if it enters their waters and to allow for the proper disembarkation of the refugees,” states Eva Sundari. She is a Board Member for the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and a former Member of the Indonesian House of Representatives.
“It is disgraceful that a boat filled with men, women, and children in grave danger has been allowed to remain adrift. Neglecting the people on the boat is nothing short of an affront to humanity.”
The Rohingya are an ethnic group with a population of 3.1 million, the majority of whom are Muslim, who have lived for centuries in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. For decades, they have been suffering persecution and discrimination. The overwhelming majority of them were rendered stateless in the early 1990s by the authorities and have suffered the most serious human rights violations since at least the late 1970s.
Since then, the military has undertaken several campaigns of ethnic cleansing of Rohingya and killed thousands of its minority citizens. In 2016 and 2017, the Rohingya were the target of brutal military operations which displaced over 730,000 to neighbouring Bangladesh. These operations were defined as genocide in the Canadian Parliament in 2018 and by other nations.
Living conditions for Rohingyas in Bangladesh are poor and worsening. They rely entirely on humanitarian assistance for protection, food, water, shelter and health, and they live in temporary shelters in highly congested camps. They have few job opportunities and little access to formal education.
Most live in Kutupalong, the largest refugee camp in the world, isolated from the rest of the population on this inhabited island. Frequent floods wash away their bamboo camps with all their belongings and often drown their children.
They are trapped in an uncertain situation where they can neither return to their home in Myanmar nor rebuild their home in Bangladesh. The government of Bangladesh refuses to integrate them locally, while the military in Myanmar continues to deny their identity as citizens and their right to return to their homes in Rakhine state.
“Here, we are not treated as human beings in the camps. We have no basic rights. Children are growing up without education. There are very limited medical facilities. Many people are dying from various diseases and infections. It is like hell here.” Mohammad added.
In these desperate conditions, many refugees put themselves at the hands of unscrupulous human smugglers to seek a better life in countries like Indonesia, a journey requiring surviving extremely dangerous conditions on the Andaman Sea.
“We know it is suicide to put our lives in this unseaworthy vessel. But what can we do? We wanted to give ourselves a second chance other than die here. We are not seeking better lives, but we are just looking for a place to just be alive.”
The UNHCR states in a press release that “the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is deeply dismayed that repeated calls to rescue and safely disembark people stranded on boats in the Andaman Sea and Strait of Malacca are not being heeded… inaction from states to save lives results in more human misery and tragedies each day.”
After spending more than a month adrift on a stricken boat, 58 of them were rescued by Indonesian fishermen on 25 December. But fears remain for the lives of an estimated 140 more – including many women and children – who are still stranded aboard the vessel.
The boat has now been adrift in waters off the coasts of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and India for weeks. Mohammad begged the world to rescue the passengers. “We Rohingya have been suffering in Bangladesh camps for decades. No country wants us when we seek safety in another country. If any humanity is left in this world, please save us.”