Bangladesh’s coast guard rescued nearly 400 Rohingya stranded at sea for weeks after their boat was turned away from Malaysia, according to local media and rights groups.
At least 382 people came ashore on Wednesday evening. Rights group Amnesty International said at least 32 refugees were reported to have died at sea, while survivors were said to be “severely malnourished”.
One person on board told the Dhaka Tribune the boat had been turned away from Malaysia two months ago.
There are fears that other boats are still adrift on open waters. At least three to five other Rohingya boats may be stranded near Malaysia, Chris Lewa, director of the rights monitoring group the Arakan Project, told The New Humanitarian on Thursday.
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Amnesty said Malaysian authorities have enforced “a strict coastal patrol” to prevent people from entering during the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this month, the authorities detained 200 Rohingya from a boat off the coast of Langkawi, a northwestern island, before processing them as “illegal immigrants”, according to the Malaysian state-run news agency, Bernama.
In 2015, thousands of Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants were stranded when Thai authorities cracked down on regional routes, pushing some smugglers to abandon people at sea.
Regional smuggling and trafficking routes ground to a halt, but smaller-scale trips have resurfaced over the last two years, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR.
Unlike previous years, when the vast majority of passengers were men, a growing number of Rohingya women and girls are also making the dangerous journey.
– Irwin Loy