Deadliest year for Rohingya at sea in years as 180 are presumed to have drowned

NEW DELHI/DHAKA, Dec 26 (Reuters) – The possible sinking of a ship in recent weeks with 180 Rohingya Muslims on board could make 2022 one of the deadliest years at sea in nearly a decade for the community, a woman said. UN agency, as refugees try to flee desperate conditions in Bangladeshi camps.

Nearly a million Myanmar’s Rohingya live in crowded facilities in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, including tens of thousands who fled their home country after the army carried out a deadly crackdown in 2017.

The number of Rohingya leaving Bangladesh on boats this year more than fivefold from the previous year to nearly 2,400, human rights groups estimate. It’s unclear if the lifting of COVID restrictions in Southeast Asia, a favorite destination, has led to the rush of people.

In Buddhist-majority Myanmar, most Rohingya are denied citizenship and are considered illegal immigrants from South Asia.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it feared a ship that set sail in late November was missing, with all 180 on board presumed dead.

UNHCR said the boat may have started to crack in early December before losing contact. He added that it was not clear where the ship was leaving, but three Rohingya men, including one whose family was on board, said she left Bangladesh.

Nearly 200 Rohingya were already feared dead or missing at sea this year. “We are hoping against hope that the 180 missing are still alive somewhere,” UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said.

Thai authorities said four women and one man were found floating near the Thai island of Surin and another woman on the Similan Islands and were rescued by fishermen. Authorities had yet to confirm their identities.

A local fisherman told Reuters that he and his crew had rescued people hanging from a floating water tank.

UNHCR’s Baloch said 2022 was one of the worst years for dead and missing after 2013 and 2014, when 900 and 700 Rohingya were killed or missing in the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal after inter-communal violence forced them to flee.


Sayedur Rahman, 38, who fled to Malaysia in 2012 from Myanmar, said his wife and three children were among those missing on the ship.

“In 2017, my family came to Bangladesh to save their lives,” Rahman said. “But now they are all gone… I am totally devastated… We Rohingyas let ourselves die… on land, in sea. Everywhere.”

Bangladesh has arrested human traffickers in the past. The densely populated country has also called on the international community to help ease the burden of hosting so many refugees.

Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project which works to support the Rohingya, told Reuters that a ship that had been adrift for weeks after leaving Bangladesh with almost 200 people landed on Monday night in the Indonesian province of Aceh.

Earlier this month, he said many people on the same ship may have died of hunger or thirst.

“It is outrageous that they have been left adrift for almost four weeks, either completely ignored without food or water or towed to Indonesia,” Lewa said.

A local Indonesian disaster mitigation agency said 185 passengers arrived in Pidie district in Aceh province on Monday night.

Some 57 more Rohingya arrived in Aceh on Sunday after nearly a month adrift. Two more ships carrying a total of 230 Rohingya landed on Aceh’s shores last month, while the Sri Lankan navy rescued 104 Rohingya this month.

“Life in the camp is full of uncertainties, there is no hope that they can return home soon,” said Mohammed Imran, a former Rohingya community leader who returned to Bangladesh from Malaysia.

Reporting by Krishna N. Das in New Delhi and Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Additional reporting by Stanley Widianto in Jakarta and Panu Wongcha-um, Chayut Setboonsarng, Panarat Thepgumpanat in Bangkok, and Hidayatullah Tahjuddin at PIDIE, Indonesia; Edited by Kenneth Maxwell, Muralikumar Anantharaman, Alexandra Hudson, and David Evans

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