DHAKA, Bangladesh

Bangladesh on Thursday called on the surrounding countries of the Andaman Sea to rescue Rohingya refugees adrift for weeks.

“Other states, particularly those, on whose territorial water the vessel has been found bear the primary responsibility and they should fulfill their obligations under international law and burden-sharing principle,” said the statement issued by Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry.

Ninety Rohingya refugees, including 65 women, departed Bangladesh on Feb. 11, 2021, hoping to migrate to Malaysia or any other suitable third country on a risky sea route by boat, dreaming of a better life.

But the boat went adrift after the engine failed when crossing the Andaman Sea, according to a statement issued by international rights watchdog Fortify Rights on Tuesday.

Citing family members of some stranded Rohingya as the source, the statement added that so far more than five refugees have lost their lives on board, while conditions of many others were critical due to starvation and dehydration.

The UN Refugee Agency in a statement issued on Wednesday urged countries surrounding the Andaman Sea to come forward to rescue the stranded Rohingya people.

The Andaman Sea lies to the southeast of the Bay of Bengal, south of Myanmar, west of Thailand, and east of India’s Andaman, and the Nicobar Islands.

“We have alerted the authorities of the relevant maritime states of these reports and appealed for their swift assistance, should the vessel be found in their area of responsibility for search and rescue. Immediate action is needed to save lives and prevent further tragedy,” said Indrika Ratwatte, the director of the UNHCR Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific.

Bangladesh persists

However, Bangladesh said based on international obligations, other countries should come forward this time instead of the traditional practice of throwing the liability to it.

“The boat has been traced approximately 1,700 km (1,056 miles) away from Bangladesh at a location which is approximately 492 km (305 miles) from Myanmar, 363 km (225 miles) from Thailand, 281 km (174 miles) from Indonesia and 147 km (91 miles) from India,” said the statement, adding that the location is far off the territorial waters of Bangladesh and proximate to other littoral states.

Calling on other countries to share responsibility for Rohingya, the statement added: “Bangladesh is respectful of its international obligations under the UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea] and in earlier occasions when other littoral countries of the region repeatedly denied access to the Rohingyas adrift on the sea, it was the Government of Bangladesh for their rescue.”

Last February, at least 15 Rohingya from refugee camps in Bangladesh reportedly drowned in the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean after their boat, carrying more than 100 people, capsized en route to Malaysia.

On April 16 of the same year, members of the Bangladesh Coast Guard also rescued 396 Rohingya from a boat that departed Bangladesh for Malaysia in February and went adrift in the sea for weeks after being failed to reach the destined country due to COVID-19 restrictions. Reportedly 60 people died on board at that time.

Human smugglers frequently trap the persecuted Rohingya, living in the crammed makeshift tents in the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh’s southern district of Cox’s Bazar, to take risky sea routes to migrate to other countries especially Malaysia or Indonesia in exchange for huge amounts of money.

Bangladesh is currently home to more than 1.1 million Rohingya and of them above 750,000 mostly women and children fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017.​​​​​​​​​​​​

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