60 Rohingya died aboard vessel drifting for weeks, say survivors

Published April 17, 2020
Belongings of Rohingya refugees lie scattered on the shore as their boat remains anchored nearby.—AFP
Belongings of Rohingya refugees lie scattered on the shore as their boat remains anchored nearby.—AFP

TEKNAF (Bangladesh): Sixty Rohingya people died on a boat crammed with hundreds of persons stranded in the Bay of Bengal for more than two months, two survivors said on Thursday.

Both said the captain of the fishing trawler, carrying over 500 men, women and children, was also killed in a fight with those on board.

Nearly a million Rohingya live in squalid camps near Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar after fleeing a military offensive in 2017. Thousands try every year to reach other countries on crowded rickety boats.

Survivor Anwarul Islam said that after the ship was denied entry by both Malaysia and Thailand it headed back to Bangladesh where they were picked up by the coastguard late on Wednesday.

“There were more than 500 people aboard, jam-packed. At least 60 of us died in the boat. We held on board their funeral prayers and dropped their bodies in the sea,” Islam said by phone.

“We barely had food, freshwater, and medicines,” he said.

“The captain tried to rape one of our women and fighting broke out,” Islam said, stating the man was killed during the confrontation and his body thrown overboard.

His account was echoed by Anwar Alam, another survivor, who said the ordeal lasted two months and 18 days.

“We entered Malaysia (waters) three times but they didn’t let us in. Many of us died in the heat and sweat. There were too many onboard, mostly women and children,” Alam said in southeastern Bangladesh.

“The captain of the ship was killed when there was a quarrel between us and the crew.”

A Rohingya community leader in Bangladesh, who declined to be named, said there were 482 people on board the boat. That suggests more than 50 people may have perished.

“It made several attempts to land in Malaysia but was turned back. We think several boats carrying Rohingya are still at sea,” he said.

The Bangladesh coast guard said that other survivors put the number of dead at 32 people, and that their boat had tried to enter Malaysia and Thailand.

Coast guard officer Shah Zia Rahman said that nearly 250 women and children were among the 400 or so rescued late on Wednesday from the vessel off the Cox’s Bazar district in southeastern Bangladesh.

“They were starving,” Rahman said.

The UN’s refugee agency said that they were “extremely malnourished and dehydrated”. “Their bodies have become skeletal. Some grew beards on the boat,” police said.

Bangladesh media reports quoted one of those on board as saying the boat was denied entry by Malaysia because of stricter controls due to the coronavirus pandemic. “We failed to anchor in Malaysian coast despite repeated attempts,” Moha­m­mad Jubayer told the bdnews24.com news portal.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2020

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