UN warns 2 boats adrift with 400 Rohingya aboard desperately need rescue

The UN refugee agency on Monday sounded the alarm for about 400 Rohingya Muslims believed to be aboard two boats reported to be out of supplies and adrift in the Andaman Sea, reports The Associated Press.

The UNHCR is worried that all aboard could die without efforts to rescue them, said Babar Baloch, the agency’s Bangkok-based regional spokesperson.

“There are about 400 children, women and men looking death in the eye if there are no moves to save these desperate souls,” he told The Associated Press. The boats apparently embarked from Bangladesh and are reported to have been at sea for about two weeks, he said.

The captain of one of the boats, contacted by the AP on Saturday, said he had 180 to 190 people on board, that they are out of food and water and the engine was damaged. The captain, who gave his name as Maan Nokim, said he fears all on board will die if they do not receive help.

On Sunday, Nokim said the boat was 320 kilometers (200 miles) from Thailand’s west coast. A Thai navy spokesperson, contacted Monday, said he had no information about the boats.

The location is about the same distance from Indonesia’s northernmost province of Aceh, where another boat with 139 people landed Saturday on Sabang Island, off the tip of Sumatra, Baloch said. They include 58 children, 45 women and 36 men — the typical balance of those making the sea journey, he said. Hundreds more arrived in Aceh last month.

There is a seasonal exodus of Rohingyas, usually from squalid, overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh. The number of Rohingya fleeing the camps has surged since last year due to food ration cuts and a spike in gang violence that has left camp residents fearing for their lives.

About 740,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to the camps in Bangladesh since August 2017, after a brutal counterinsurgency campaign tore through their communities. Myanmar security forces have been accused of mass rapes, killings and the burning of thousands of Rohingya homes.

International courts are considering whether their actions constituted genocide.

Most of the refugees leaving the camps by sea attempt to reach Muslim-dominated Malaysia, hoping to find work there. Thailand, reached by some boats, turns them away or detains them. Indonesia, another Muslim-dominated country where many end up, also puts them in detention.

Baloch said if the two boats adrift are not given assistance, the world “may witness another tragedy such as in December 2022, when a boat with 180 aboard went missing in one of the darkest such incidents in the region.”

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