In a heart-wrenching incident, a boat carrying Rohingya refugees attempting to escape Myanmar’s Rakhine state capsized at sea this week, resulting in the devastating loss of 17 lives, according to rescue personnel. These Rohingya individuals, facing immense desperation, embark on treacherous sea voyages each year, hoping to find refuge in Malaysia and Indonesia.The ill-fated boat, believed to be carrying over 50 passengers en route to Malaysia, encountered dire circumstances amidst tumultuous waters on Sunday night. Byar La, a member of the Shwe Yaung Metta Foundation rescue team stationed in Sittwe, disclosed the grim news. “Regrettably, we have discovered 17 deceased bodies as of yesterday,” he conveyed to AFP, adding that eight survivors, all men, were found and subsequently taken into police custody for questioning.
Despite ongoing search and rescue operations, the precise number of individuals aboard remains uncertain. The perilous journey undertaken by Rohingya refugees stems from their dire circumstances in Myanmar’s Rakhine, where roughly 600,000 Rohingya Muslims reside. Stripped of citizenship and freedom of movement, these individuals are effectively treated as migrants from neighboring Bangladesh.In a disturbing trend, more than 3,500 Rohingya took to the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal on 39 vessels in 2022, a substantial increase from the previous year’s 700 attempts, as reported by the United Nations refugee agency’s data from January. Tragically, last year alone witnessed at least 348 Rohingya losing their lives or disappearing at sea. This alarming toll prompted the UN agency to call for coordinated regional efforts to prevent further fatalities.
The dire situation has been compounded by the lack of prompt responses from maritime authorities. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees highlighted the distressing reality that appeals for rescuing and assisting distressed individuals at sea have often gone unanswered, leaving many boats adrift for extended periods.Rohingya living conditions within Rakhine state have been likened to “apartheid” by Amnesty International. The harrowing circumstances date back to a brutal military crackdown in 2017, forcing around 750,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh amidst reports of widespread violence including murder, arson, and sexual assault. The United Nations’ highest court is currently investigating allegations of genocide against Myanmar in light of this mass exodus.While Bangladesh and Myanmar have engaged in discussions about repatriating Rohingya refugees, concerns about the safety of their return persist. Even as international aid efforts grapple with funding cuts, the plight of Rohingya refugees remains dire. In May, a cyclone wreaked havoc in Rakhine, further exacerbating their suffering, and international aid delivery has been hampered by the military junta’s restrictions.”