The United Nations says the possible sinking of a boat carrying Rohingya Muslims would make 2022 one of the deadliest at sea for that group.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it believes a boat that set sail at the end of November is missing. All 180 on board are feared dead.
The agency said it feared the boat may have started to break apart in early December before losing contact. The UNHCR said it was not clear where the boat had launched from. But three Rohingya men, including one whose family was onboard, said it set sail from Bangladesh.
Nearly 1 million Rohingya from Myanmar are living in crowded camps in Muslim-majority Bangladesh. The number includes tens of thousands who fled their home country after Myanmar’s military carried out a deadly operation against the minority group in 2017.
Rights groups have estimated the number of Rohingya leaving Bangladesh by boat rose to nearly 2,400 this year. It was not clear how the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in Southeast Asia has affected the flow from Bangladesh.
In Buddhist-majority Myanmar, most Rohingya are denied citizenship and are seen as illegal immigrants from South Asia.
Babar Baloch is a UNHCR spokesperson. He told Reuters news agency that nearly 200 Rohingya were already feared dead or missing at sea this year. "We hope against hope that the 180 missing are still alive somewhere."
Officials in Thailand said four women and one man were recently found floating near Thailand's Surin Island and rescued by fishermen. Another woman was rescued near the country’s Similan Islands. Officials were not able to confirm their identities.
A local fisherman told Reuters he and his crew had rescued people holding onto a floating water tank.
Baloch said 2022 was one of the worst years for Rohingya deaths and disappearances after 2013 and 2014. The earlier years are when 900 and 700 Rohingya died or went missing in the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, off the southern coasts of Myanmar and Bangladesh. U.N. officials said violence between communities within the group forced them to flee.
Sayedur Rahman is a 38-year-old man who fled to Malaysia in 2012 from Myanmar. He told Reuters his wife and three children were among the missing on the vessel.
"In 2017, my family came to Bangladesh to save their lives," Rahman said. "But they are now all gone...I'm totally devastated...We Rohingya are left to die...on the land, at sea. Everywhere."
Bangladesh has in the past arrested people involved in human trafficking. The densely populated country has also asked other nations to take some refugees.
Chris Lewa is director of the Arakan Project, which seeks to support Rohingya people in Myanmar and Bangladesh. Lewa told Reuters a boat carrying nearly 200 people that drifted for weeks after leaving Bangladesh had landed in Indonesia's Aceh province earlier this week.
Earlier this month, Lewa said many people from the same boat may have died of hunger or thirst. Lewa said it was “outrageous” that the boat was drifting for so long, and “completely ignored without food or water…”
I’m Caty Weaver.
Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
on board –adj. on a boat or airplane (sometimes used with other vehicles)
devastate – v. to destroy of damage something very badly
drift – v. to be moved slowly somewhere by currents of wind or water
outrageous – adj. shocking or extreme
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