At least 180 ethnic Rohingya stranded at sea for weeks after leaving Bangladesh in November are feared dead after their rickety boat likely sank this month, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said. Citing unconfirmed reports, the agency said the “unfit” ship likely sank after becoming lost at sea. “Relatives have lost contact,” UNHCR tweeted on Saturday. “Those who were last in contact assume they are all dead.
More than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar live in overcrowded camps in predominantly Muslim Bangladesh, including tens of thousands who fled Myanmar after a deadly crackdown by the country’s military in 2017. In predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, most Rohingya Muslims are denied citizenship and are considered interlopers, illegal immigrants from South Asia.
However, they have almost no access to work in Bangladesh. Human traffickers often lure them on dangerous journeys with the promise of work in Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia. Braving thirst, hunger and disease, refugees often end up adrift in international waters after leaving southern Bangladesh, hoping to find food, work and shelter elsewhere in Asia.
Last week, two Myanmar Rohingya activist groups said up to 20 people had died of hunger or thirst on a boat that had been stranded at sea off the Indian coast for two weeks. The ship, with at least 100 people on board, was believed to be in Malaysian waters. Earlier this month, the Sri Lankan Navy rescued 104 Rohingya stranded off the northern coast of the Indian Ocean island. The UNHCR called on countries in the region to help ease the humanitarian crisis, while the refugees themselves appealed to the world not to forget their plight.
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