ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) urged regional governments to immediately launch a search and rescue operation for a boat reported to be carrying hundreds of Rohingya refugees that has been adrift in waters off the coasts of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and India for weeks.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the boat has been adrift in high seas since late November, and dozens of passengers have already died on the journey, while the surviving passengers have no access to food, water or medication.
The captain of the stricken boat gave satellite coordinates to a Rohingya refugee – Mohamed Khan Rezuwan – in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar during a phone call on Sunday, The Quint reported.
“We are dying here. The sea current has swept us out of the Malacca Strait and into the Bay of Bengal,” said the captain of a stranded boat. That was a 90-second-call.
The boat is carrying over 160 Rohingya refugees.
The call took place on 18 December, according to The Quint.
As per the new GPS coordinates, the boat is now in Indian waters, approximately 150 km from Andaman and Nicobar’s Campbell Bay, The Quint reported on Sunday.
At least three people on board the boat had already died due to starvation and dehydration, Rezuwan told The Print website.
“The situation is very concerning. They do not have water or food,” he was quoted as saying.
The group of Southeast Asian legislators called on member states of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other countries in the region to fulfil their humanitarian obligations and rescue those on board the boat.
“It is disgraceful that a boat filled with men, women and children in grave danger has been allowed to remain adrift,” said Eva Sundari, board member for APHR.
“Neglecting the people on the boat is nothing short of an affront to humanity,” she said.
The boat left from Bangladesh for Malaysia on 25 November, and suffered an engine failure on 1 December. It got stranded in the Andaman Sea, then got swept up by the current from the middle of the Andaman Sea to the Strait of Malacca, and is now in Indian waters, Rezuwan said to The Quint.
According to media reports and information from human rights organizations, two other boats carrying Rohingya refugees have been adrift ASEAN waters in the past weeks. One, carrying 154 refugees, was rescued by a Vietnamese oil service vessel on 8 December and handed over to the Myanmar navy. Another, carrying 104 refugees, was rescued by the Sri Lanka navy on 18 December, and disembarked at Kankesanturai Harbor.
The Rohingya have been suffering persecution in their country of origin, Myanmar, for decades. The overwhelming majority of them were rendered stateless in the early nineties by the authorities, and have suffered the most serious human rights violations since at least the late seventies. In 2016 and 2017 they were the target of brutal military operations, displacing over 730,000 to neighbouring Bangladesh and for which the Myanmar army has been accused of genocide.
In these desperate conditions, many of them put themselves at the hands of unscrupulous human smugglers to seek a better life in countries like Malaysia, in extremely dangerous journeys through the Andaman Sea.