With worries that some of the Rohingya have already passed away from starvation and dehydration, calls are growing for Malaysia’s authorities to permit the safe disembarkation of those who are stranded on a boat within its waters.
On November 25, a boat leaving from Cox’s Bazar in southeast Bangladesh carried 160 individuals, including 120 women and children.
Since Bangladesh welcomed almost 1 million members of the Muslim Rohingya minority who were fleeing a widespread and systematic attack by security forces in neighbouring Myanmar in 2017, the coastal region has grown to become the largest refugee settlement in the world.
The congested, filthy camps in Cox’s Bazar are in dire need of repair, and the UN Refugee Agency has noticed an increase in the number of Rohingya taking perilous boat trips across the Andaman Sea to find new homes.
The boat that is currently drifting in Malaysian waters lost power on December 1 and has been at sea ever since.
They haven’t had anything to eat or drink in a few days, according to Mohammed Rezuwan Khan, a Rohingya activist in Cox’s Bazar whose sister and niece are on the boat.
If there is no rescue by today or tomorrow, “the rate of deaths in the boat will climb extremely quickly,” he said. “There have already been more than eight deaths.”
Doctors Without Borders said in a statement on Saturday that “several persons onboard have reportedly perished due to lack of food or water,” while Arab News was unable to independently verify the figures. “Urgently permit the safe disembarkation of refugees experiencing the impacts of a regional humanitarian crisis and fleeing to seek safety,” it pleaded with the Malaysian administration.
The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network and Amnesty International made such requests to Malaysia and other governments in the area over the weekend.
The appeals have not yet received a response from the Malaysian government. Despite Arab News’ continuous attempts, neither the Royal Malaysian Navy nor the Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs were accessible for comment.
According to a UNHCR alert from early December, the number of persons trying to cross the Andaman Sea from Bangladesh and Myanmar has surged sixfold since 2020.
At least 119 individuals have been reported deceased or missing while travelling this year alone. The majority of them at risk were Rohingya refugees.
“Tragedy and misery in the camp drove them to decide to take a chance on death, even if it meant dying under the waves. It’s similar to suicide,” added Khan.
The largest refugee camp in the world is home to Rohingya refugees, who must be helped by the international community. It is now too late.