Nearly 200 starving Rohingya refugees rescued from stricken boat



CNN

They battled starvation and dehydration after their battered boat’s engine cut out, leaving them adrift in the Andaman Sea for weeks.

Some got so desperate that they drank seawater. Others prayed for rain, so they could briefly quench their thirst.

Starving and without medicine, some succumbed to the disease. Despite their perilous situation, multiple calls by aid agencies to rescue the group went unanswered, leaving the fate of nearly 200 rohingya Refugees to the elements.

Then on Monday, 185 people, including many women and children, were rescued in Aceh, Indonesia, according to Babar Baloch, Asia spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

Rohingya refugees rest after being transferred to a temporary shelter after arriving by boat in Laweung, Aceh province, on December 27, 2022.

A volunteer and a soldier transport a Rohingya woman to an ambulance on its way to a new shelter in Muara Tiga district in Pidie, Aceh province, on December 26, 2022.

“Desperate men, women and children. Many dehydrated, needing urgent medical attention. A sigh of relief”, Baloch wrote On twitter.

The rescue is a sign of hope for the group, which left Bangladesh last monthwhere around 1 million members of the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority live in what many consider one of the world’s largest refugee camps after fleeing a brutal campaign of killing and arson by the Myanmar military.

A video shared with CNN by relatives of the passengers shows dozens of people collapsing from exhaustion on a beach in the Southeast Asian country. Many can be seen clinging to each other, crying with relief. Among them, small children and women, their clothes soaked in water and mud. Their sullen faces look pale and haggard after going without food or water for weeks.

CNN cannot independently verify the video.

While the ship’s rescue has been welcomed by human rights groups and the families of the passengers, its harrowing voyage is another example of the compounded misery faced by the Rohingya, one of the world’s most persecuted minority groups.

The refugee journey started on november 25 from the overcrowded refugee camps of Cox’s Bazaar, where conditions are dire and women are at risk of assault and sexual violence.

Among the passengers were a young mother seeking a better future for her 5-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old boy hoping to earn enough money to buy medicine for his ailing parents.

The ship was thought to be headed for Malaysia and had been adrift since late November when its engine reportedly died.

At different points in its voyage, the ship was seen near India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. UNHCR said several countries in South and Southeast Asia “continually ignored” its earlier requests to intervene.

Several passengers are believed to have died, according to Mohammed Rezuwan Khan, whose sister and niece were on the ship. CNN cannot independently verify the deaths.

Details of the rescue of the passengers are also unclear.

On Sunday, 58 people believed to be on the boat were allegedly rescued by fishermen in Aceh, according to UNHCR’s Baloch. On Monday, the remaining surviving passengers made it ashore, he added.

A policeman stands guard next to a group of Rohingya refugees waiting to be transferred to a temporary shelter after their arrival by boat in Krueng Raya, in the Indonesian province of Aceh, on December 25, 2022.

CNN has reached out to Indonesian police for comment but has not heard back.

Many of the passengers are now receiving medical care in Aceh, however it is unclear what might happen to them in the coming days.

“Most of their conditions are not well,” the head of the disaster management agency in Aceh’s Pidie regency, Muhammad Misbahul, told Reuters, adding that paramedics from three local clinics were taking care of them.

One of the refugees, Umar Farukh, told Reuters he hoped Indonesia would “give us the opportunity to get an education.”

“I want to get more education,” he said.

Since 2020, more than 3,000 Rohingya have attempted the sea journey from Bangladesh, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the UN.

Not all survive the perilous journey.

According to UNHCR, around 180 Rohingya refugees on board a different ship are feared dead after family members lost contact with people on board.

The second ship also began its journey in late November and began to break up in early December, UNHCR said in a statement, citing unconfirmed reports.

According to Baloch, in 2022 alone, some 2,000 Rohingya have made the risky sea voyage. Of that number, nearly 200 have been reported missing, he added.

If reports of the feared 180 dead are confirmed, this year would be one of the deadliest for the persecuted group seeking refuge in a third country, Baloch said.

“I humbly appeal to the world not to let the Rohingya die,” Khan said. “Give us at least some basic human rights that we deserve.”

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