UNHCR appeals for rescue of Rohingya refugees in distress in Andaman Sea
The United Nations (UN) refugee agency on Monday appealed for the immediate rescue of a group of Rohingya refugees in distress in the Andaman Sea after leaving Bangladesh about 10 days ago.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it had received reports of an unconfirmed number of Rohingya refugees aboard a vessel in distress as of Saturday evening.
The refugees apparently departed from Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf in Bangladesh about 10 days ago.
“Many are in a highly vulnerable condition and are apparently suffering from extreme dehydration. We understand that a number of refugees have already lost their lives, and that fatalities have risen over the past 24 hours,” said Indrika Ratwatte, director of the UNHCR regional bureau for Asia and the Pacific.
UNHCR said the vessel ran out of food and water several days ago, and that many of the people on board are ill. The vessel has reportedly been adrift since its engine broke down more than a week ago.
“We have not been able to confirm the number of refugees or their precise location at this time,” Ratwatte said.
“In the absence of precise information as to the refugees’ location, 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,” he added.
Saving lives must be the priority, and the duty to rescue persons in distress at sea should be upheld, irrespective of nationality or legal status, in line with international obligations under the law of the sea and longstanding maritime traditions, Ratwatte said.
“We appeal to all governments to deploy their search and rescue capacities and promptly disembark those in distress,” he said.
UNHCR said it would support governments across the region in providing humanitarian assistance and quarantine measures for those disembarked, in line with public health protocols.
“The fact that refugees and migrants continue to undertake fatal journeys accentuates the need for immediate and collective regional response to search, rescue and disembarkation,” the UN agency said.
Bangladesh currently has more than a million Rohingya refugees who fled Rakhine state in Myanmar in 2017 to escape a brutal crackdown by the military.
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